The Master of Arts in Bioethics & Medical Humanities program has engaged an amazing group of CWRU faculty from across campus to offer a robust selection of elective courses. Below is a representative sample of electives. This list is offered only to suggest the breadth of electives a student might consider. We encourage our students to range widely across all of the schools and departments of CWRU to identify and take courses that are relevant to their scholarly and professional interests.

Departmental Elective Offerings 

The following options are 3-credit electives available to students within the MA in Bioethics and Medical Humanities program.

Focus and Scope of Course: The course examines the interplay of politics, governmental structures, culture and religion and their impact on ethics questions that arise in the health arena. The course provides a broad overview of the basic tenets of several major faith traditions and examines how and why the interpretation of such tenets and their impact on bioethics issues varies across different societies. The specific domains in which we explore such issues, e.g., reproductive health, regenerative medicine, end-of-life issues, infectious disease, may be rotated each year.

Objectives: Students will be able to: 

  • Describe how religious views and interests affect policymaking with respect to a variety of health-related issues
  • Enunciate strategies for the reconciliation of bioethics perspectives stemming from diverse religious interests in a pluralistic society
  • Compare and contrast the perspective of various world religions with respect to specific bioethics issues

We all grow old (if we are so lucky!). But who wants to be called "old"? And how does the experience of "growing old" differ based on one's sex or gender, sexuality, race or ethnicity, and socioeconomic or disability status? In this course, we will consider the social, cultural, scientific, medical, and personal meanings of aging, and how these meanings, as well as the embodied experience of aging in America, are influenced by multiple forms of ageism. We will interrogate the assumptions and stereotypes about age that circulate through mainstream American culture and medicine and how these shape interpersonal and institutional practices. How might we begin to recognize, respond to, and change ageism, and thus our own inevitable experiences of aging? The course requires reading quizzes, papers, participation, and attendance, and for graduate students an additional presentation.

*Required for Medicine, Society, and Culture Concentration

Topics will include comparative medical systems and concepts of health, medical history, illness narratives and narrative ethics, social determinants of health and health inequalities, analysis of representations of illness and medicine in literature and the arts, and medical rhetoric. Students who complete the course should develop a command of the basic problems, approaches, and literatures in the social and cultural contexts of health sickness, and medicine. Students will be able to identify epistemology, theory, methodology and data from neighboring disciplines and understand affordances and costs in each.

Narrative Medicine, or medicine practiced with narrative skills (as defined by Rita Charon, MD, PhD), is a methodology in patient-centered medical education. Narrative medicine is informed by the theory and practice of reading, writing, telling, and receiving of stories as a clinically empowering practice for anyone engaged (or planning to engage) in the field of healthcare. This course will employ various methods of learning and experiencing narrative, including fundamental skills of close reading and reflective writing and other forms of self-representation. Narrative competence is an important skill that enables a person to "recognize, absorb, interpret, represent, and be moved by the stories of illness". Major themes throughout the course will include caregivers' and patients' empowerment, empathy, narrative ethics, testimony, reflexive writing, and illness and medical stories. The course will be conducted in a seminar-type format. Each session will have readings that relate to the theory of narrative (primarily from the Charon textbook but also from other sources in the Ethics and Humanities professional literature) and related health humanities. Many of the sessions will also include the application of reflective practice/close reading. Additional elements will be writing workshops and use of film and visual art as narrative. The class will meet once weekly for a 3 hour session. This class is open to graduate students in any humanities or healthcare field, and will be especially useful to those who intend to have a future career in which direct care of patients/clients is a part of their work.

This course is designed to familiarize graduate students with the major controversies over the generation and use of new human genetic information. Topics will include the spread of predictive genetic testing, prenatal diagnosis, genetic discrimination, human genetic variation research, eugenics, genetic counseling, and the limits of human gene therapy. The course will be conducted as a seminar, involving discussions of readings, guest speakers, and student presentations.

"Despite death’s inevitability, we consciously and unconsciously disguise or resist its reality in dreams, fairy tales, allegories, and even jokes."  In his book, How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter, Sherwin Nuland describes how we have turned increasingly to modern medicine as one more means of denying the reality of death.  As a surgeon with more than forty years of experience in a major metropolitan hospital, Nuland admits to actively participating in this denial.  Modern medicine, he argues, influences how we as individuals and as a culture not only view but also experience death.  “Modern dying,” he contends, “takes place in the modern hospital, where it can be hidden, cleansed of its organic blight, and finally packaged for modern burial.”  This course uses literature, history, and personal and critical accounts related to death as points of reference for examining the role modern medicine has come to play in how we die. The course will have a heavy reading load, but of accessible and engaging material. Course requirements include reading quizzes, papers, participation, and attendance. For graduate students, there are additional paper and presentation requirements. No prerequisites required.

The course will introduce students to theoretical and practical aspects of ethics and public health. This course will help students develop the analytical skills necessary for evaluating of ethical issues in public health policy and public health prevention, treatment, and research. Will include intensive reading and case-based discussions. Evaluation based on class participation, a written exercise and a case analysis.

Science, Technology, and Society (STS) is an interdisciplinary field of scholarship that examines how social, cultural, historical, ethical, and political forces impact scientific research and technological development: and, in turn, how our beliefs, values, and perspectives change in response to scientific and technological innovation. This course will take an STS approach to the study of human health and medicine. We will explore how advances in contemporary biomedicine have affected society and culture, and in turn, how society and culture influence medical science, technology, and clinical practice. Topics we will explore include reproductive technologies, genetics, disability, cyborgs and human enhancement, pharmaceuticals, medical practice, and end-of-life care. The course will prepare students to think critically about scientific and medical knowledge, to thoughtfully examine the relationships between science, technology and culture at large, and to consider the ways that new medical technologies shape and re-shape our understandings of illness, health, and the human body. Weekly course meetings will implement a blend of lectures, discussions, and in-class exercises.

What values and assumptions underlie our conceptualizations of disability? What can we learn from the lived experiences of disability? How should these insights inform fundamental concepts, priorities, and analyses in bioethics? Even though developments in medicine, clinical research, and public health often disproportionately impact people with disabilities, disabled people have been systemically marginalized within these fields and within bioethical discourse. This course introduces students to the distinctive approach known as disability bioethics. Disability bioethics is characterized by 1) rejection of biomedical interpretations of disability, 2) methodological primacy of the perspectives of disabled people, and 3) anti-ableism. We will explore this theoretical lens and its application to a range of issues, such as biomedical technology, guardianship for healthcare decisions, futility judgments, and public health emergencies.

This course will focus on both theoretical and practical issues in clinical ethics. Clinical ethics will be distinguished from other areas of bioethics by highlighting distinctive features of the clinical context which must be taken into account in clinical ethics policy and practice. Fundamental moral and political foundations of clinical ethics will be examined, as will the role of bioethical theory and method in the clinical context. Topical issues to be considered may include informed consent; decision capacity; end of life decision making; confidentiality and privacy; the role and function of ethics committees; ethics consultation; the role of the clinical ethicist; decision making in various pediatric settings (from neonatal through adolescent); the role of personal values in professional life (e.g., rights of conscience issues, self disclosure and boundary issues); dealing with the chronically non-adherent patient; ethical issues in organ donation and transplant; health professional-patient communication; medical mistakes; and other ethical issues that emerge in clinical settings.

This course is designed to provide an overview of ethical issues related to current and future neurotechnologies as they are applied clinical and research settings. We will cover many topics related to medical care for patients with neurological disorders, including cognitive vulnerability, neurodiversity, stigma and biases in mental health, brain implants, consciousness, selfhood in neurodegenerative disease, and enhancement. Classroom activities will primarily consist of discussion of selected readings related to a topic in neuroethics, moderated by the instructor. In addition, experts will be invited to visit the classroom to assist in the dialogue. Students will actively participate in discussion, debate, written scholarship and presentation to peers. Evaluation will be based on classroom participation, short writing assignments, and an independent project that will be designed in collaboration with the instructor culminate in both a written and oral presentation.

This course, designed for interprofessional graduate students, will explore the multidimensional qualities of the human experience of pain, including its moral dimensions. Vulnerable populations across the lifespan most subject to unethical pain care will be described (e.g., marginalized populations, those with substance use disorder, chronic pain, mental health comorbidities, cognitive disabilities, and others). Historic and current views of the moral obligation of healthcare providers to treat people with pain will be discussed. Select codes of ethics and pain management policies will be critiqued. Ethical theories will be reviewed for their utility in providing frameworks for determining how ethical, empathetic, effective, and safe pain care can be achieved in the most vulnerable populations.

Mental health ethics is the study of value-laden issues and moral dilemmas around psychological health, illness, and medical treatment. Ethics are crucial to effective clinical practice in both inpatient and outpatient mental health settings and to mental health research, while also shaping how people with mental health conditions navigate daily life. In this class, we will review key issues in the field of mental health ethics including involuntary treatment, deinstitutionalization, boundaries and dual relationships, peer support, user/survivor movements, and the impact of medical technologies on mental health, amongst others. The course will introduce both normative and empirical approaches to mental health ethics, while exploring patient as well as provider perspectives on mental health and illness, utilizing a combination of interactive lectures, guest presentations, and discussions. Students will learn about mental health ethics through the lenses of clinical ethics, disability bioethics, health humanities, social science, and other neighboring disciplines. By the end of this course, students will have a robust and interdisciplinary understanding of a range of ethical issues in mental health practice, research, and advocacy.

"Disability" refers to health conditions that fundamentally alter how someone engages in the world around them, including physical, psychological, and developmental illnesses. Everyone will experience disability in their lives, whether temporary or chronic, making it especially important to consider how disability shapes, and is shaped by, society at large. In this course, students will learn about the multifaceted relationships between disability and society, including the impact of ethical, cultural, political, and technological factors on the wellbeing of people with disabilities. We will critically examine representations of people with disabilities in literature, the arts, and popular media in order to interrogate the assumptions and stereotypes about disability that circulate through mainstream culture and how they shape interpersonal and institutional practices. Throughout these topics, students will reflect on the intersections of race, gender, and age with disability through a multi-disciplinary lens, drawing on bioethics, anthropology, sociology, literary studies, and the arts. The course sessions will blend lecture and discussion, and assessments will include written responses and exams.

This course examines the complex ethical and other value relationships that exist between science and society. Students will be encouraged to question the simplistic view that science proceeds independently of societal values and contentious ethical commitments. A range of other social factors, such as ethical belief systems, political forces, and large-scale financial interests all influence new scientific and technological developments. In order to illuminate each of these larger themes, this course focuses on three exciting areas of scientific inquiry: stem cell research; synthetic biology; and nanotechnology. Each of these contentious scientific fields provides an excellent view into the challenging ethical, cultural, social, political, and economic issues that will face students, both as scholars and as citizens. No prior technical knowledge is necessary for any of these scientific areas. All relevant scientific information will be provided during the course by the professor.

*Required for Research Ethics Concentration

This course will introduce students to key ethical requirements and issues that arise in the design and implementation of scientific research. Historical developments leading to the establishment of national and international guidelines for ethical conduct in research with human subjects will be addressed. Specific international and national guidelines for ethically responsible research will be explored with attention to their merits and limitations in the conduct of research. Informed consent, a fundamental requirement for ethical research will be examined. The function and role of institutional review boards (IRBs) will be described with attention to challenges faced by investigators in adhering to regulatory requirements. Ethical issues associated with risk assessment and recruitment strategies will be examined. Ethical issues that arise in the implementation of biobanks and stem cell research will be discussed. Challenges associated with the development and production of pharmaceuticals will be assessed. The importance of scientific integrity in the conduct of research will be examined with special attention to conflicts of interest and scientific misconduct such as research fraud. The role of advocacy in promoting research will be addressed. Research ethics and human rights will be explored. The course will end with a discussion of emerging issues in research ethics. Case examples will be used to illustrate ethical complexities surrounding the topics discussed.

This course is previously titled Methods Normative Bioethics.

The purpose of this intensive graduate seminar is to master and to critique core philosophical concepts that are implicit in a wide array of bioethical issues. We will critically examine in a range of contemporary ethical theories beginning with modern conceptions of individual autonomy and concluding with theories of ethical justification. While no advanced knowledge of ethical theories is presupposed, students are expected to come to class prepared with the course readings and to engage in rigorous philosophical discussions with one another and the professor.

This course is designed to explore the relationship between policy in diverse domains and their implications for health and bioethics. We examine the various factors that lead to policy development at various levels, e.g., institutional and governmental levels and the various biases and assumptions that serve as a foundation for the development and establishment of policy across diverse domains. The course will explore the various roles that can be played by bioethicists in the formulation of health-related policy  

Students will explore particular issues and themes in biomedical ethics and medical humanities in depth through independent study and research under the direction of a faculty member.


The following courses are 1.5 credits or less and are offered through the Department of Bioethics and Medical Humanities as elective course choices. 

This course examines bioethical issues that arise in the representation of mental illness and its treatment in film and literature. Course requirements include viewing 3 films and reading 3 or more books during the course of the semester, in-class discussion, and assigned writing. The films and works of literature will be rotated each year, with some possible repetitions.

*Required core course in the Medicine, Society & Culture concentration.

Students enrolled in the course engage in an opportunity for students to attend a variety of talks and events throughout University Circle and the greater Cleveland community. This allows students to engage in learning environments outside of the classroom.

Our medical, legal, and socio-cultural practices are built upon our collective understandings (and sometimes misunderstandings) of sex, gender, and what we designate as “normal.” This course will challenge heteronormative and cisnormative ideas and practices that impact LGBTQI+ communities. We will explore the forms and functions of bioethics relevant to LGBTQI+ health situated among frameworks of queer, feminist, crip, and disability theories. Through the course, we will assess contemporary debates surrounding sex and gender, and how these discussions interact with bioethical principles. We aim to equip students with the ability to synthesize various theoretical disciplines in addressing bioethical concerns pertinent to LGBTQI+ populations. The course seeks to deepen students' understanding of the complexities of queer bioethics and to contribute to the development of inclusive and equitable health policy and practice. 

This course is designed both for people with a deep interest in animals and for those who may have barely considered animals as part of bioethical inquiry. The aims is to provoke a critical evaluation of the relationship between people and other animals by starting from a solid foundation in factual information about animal cognition and capabilities, about animals as research subjects, as food, as targets of conservation, as objects for human entertainment, and in complex, often paradoxical relationships with humans. We will survey philosophical thought and principle based theory about animal ethics, before turning to practical and applied animal ethics. The course will also use art and culture as way to understand the relationship between humans and non-human life.

Environmental health threats affect every person and every living thing on this planet. The ethical issues and decisions confronting not only governments, but also public health departments, healthcare providers, and every one of us are countless. Occupational health is a subset of environmental health. Occupational health professionals care for workers with work-related injuries and illnesses and consult on safety and health issues with employers. In occupational health practice, ethical issues arise daily. The types of questions this course will address are: How should states that depend on the Colorado River for water apportion rapidly falling water supplies? How do public health departments plan for extreme weather and natural disasters? How do healthcare providers decide to triage patients in overflowing emergency departments and intensive care units during pandemics? How do community health care providers advise their patients when the community experiences an environmental disaster, such as the East Palestine train derailment? How do health care providers who work for a company manage their loyalty to their company and to their patients, the company's workforce? Do these providers have the same obligations to their patients that other health care providers have? What rules and regulations do and should apply to onsite work clinics? What ethical obligations do companies have to environmental health, to those who live in proximity to their plants, and to the health of their workers?

Healthcare access in correctional facilities is a federal mandate. Yet, what is required by that mandate, and the U.S. Constitution and case law on which it is based, is vague. While the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment and case law prohibits deliberate indifference, what these require of correctional institutions and healthcare team members is unclear. Correctional facilities themselves are a microcosm of need, risk, limited trust, conflicts, social bias, and limited resources. Ethical issues and decisions are faced daily by patients, front line clinical staff, hospital systems, families, local, state, and federal governments. Correctional health is a uniquely diverse field of medicine. The staff can be independent contractors, employed by for profit agencies, hospital system staff, or directly employed by the correctional facility. Clinical teams typically include nursing, social work, behavioral health and independent medical providers. Team members may be employed by different organizations and reporting structures may be complex and obscure. Limitations in facilities, treatment options, transportation, and staffing further complicate the provision of care. The types of questions this course will address are: How is access to care for those in confinement determined? What health issues should be addressed by correctional organizations? Who provides the care and how is it paid for? Do correctional health care providers have the same obligations to their patients that other health care providers have? What rules and regulations do and should apply to care for incarcerated or detained individuals? What ethical obligations do agencies, health systems, and governments have to persons in custody and their families? What is the health impact on the surrounding community?  

*Required for Research Ethics Concentration

This in-person seminar course will discuss current topics in biomedical research ethics via recently published articles in both the scholarly literature and the popular science press. For each session, students will choose articles with instructor’s guidance, prepare discussion questions, and lead discussion.

The focus and content of this course rotates each semester that it is offered. The course provides students with an opportunity to examine in greater depth a particular issue or dimension of bioethics and/or a particular event with significant bioethical implications. Each semester, required readings will include approximately 5 required texts and several journal articles. Previous foci and content for this course include: Bioethics, Bioethicists, and Policy Development; Medicine and Mortality; Queer Health and Bioethics; Capacity and Capacity and Competence Determinations; and Eugenics: Past and Present. 

This course is designed as a graduate seminar. We explore the pros and cons of bioethicist participation in policy development, the various ways in which policy is developed at a number of levels, e.g., institutional and governmental levels, approaches to critically analyzing diverse policies and their bioethical implications, and strategies for the consideration of bioethical perspectives in the formulation of policy. We also identify, integrate, and synthesize materials from diverse disciplines relevant to the formulation of policy.

Other Elective Offerings

Students are free to explore elective courses offered outside of the Department of Bioethics and Medical Humanities. Below are just some of the courses our MA students have pursued in the past!

ANTH 423 AIDS: Epidemiology, Biology, and Culture (3 credits)

ANTH 438 Maternal Health: Anthropological Perspectives on Reproductive Practices and Health Policy (3 credits)

ANTH 454 Healing in East Asia ( 3 credits)

COSI 445 Communication and Aging (3 credits)

EPBI 510 Health Disparities (3 credits)

GERO 498 Seminar in Gerontological Studies (3 credits)

LAWS 4200 Bioethics and Law (3 credits)

LAWS 4201 Health Law (3 credits) 

LAWS 5212 Civil Law and Psychiatry ( 2 credits)

LAWS 5213 Criminal Law and Psychiatry (2 credits) 

LAWS 5215 Health Care and Human Rights (3 credits)

LAWS 5223 Medical Malpractice Policy Issues (2 credits)

PHIL 405 Ethics (3 credits)

PHIL 430 Topics in Ethics: Planetary Citizens (3 credits) 

PHIL 434 Political and Social Philosophy (3 credits) 

MPHP 439 Public Health Management and Policy (3 credits)

SASS 511 Issues in Health Policy and Service Delivery (3 credits)

SASS 513 Aging Policy and Service Delivery (3 credits) 

SASS 514 Mental Health Policy and Service Delivery (3 credits)

SASS 516 Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Policy and Service Delivery (3 credits) 

SASS 518 Social Work with Death, Grief, and Loss (3 credits) 

SASS 529 Family, Child Policy, and Service Delivery (3 credits) 

SOCI 445 Sociology of Mental Health and Illness (3 credits)