Bioethics for Beginners (Online)


Do you think reproductive cloning is morally permissible? Do you check food labels to exclude any with GM ingredients? Would you worry if the government introduced compulsory depositing of DNA in the national DNA bank?

If so, you will be interested in this ten week online course for the thinking lay person. It will give you an introduction to the ethical and social implications of advances in medicine, biology, and technology - without assuming prior knowledge of the science. Among our topics will be cloning, GM (genetic modification), increases in life span, genetic differences in race and gender, genetics and human nature, clinical trials in the developing world, eugenics, private markets in organs for transplant and the ownership of human tissue.

The course will introduce you to these knotty problems through guided readings, online discussion, case studies and other activities as enjoyable as they are useful. We shall also consider the power of the media in opinion-forming, the realisation that equally rational people can form different opinions on the same issues, and how scientists can best deal with the social and ethical context in which they work.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

Unit 1: Argument and the implications of enhancing lifespan

Introduction to the course, to bioethics and to the analysis of argument in the context of a discussion of the possibility of significantly increasing human lifespan.

Unit 2: Reproductive ethics

The ethics of reproduction. Does everyone have the right to a family? Is reproductive cloning morally acceptable? How would you feel if you discovered your mother had been aborted at 24 weeks?

Unit 3: Absolutism and relativism I

Is morality relative or absolute? This philosophical unit will discuss these deep issues, with an eye to using the thoughts stimulated to further our thoughts about bioethics.

Unit 4: Absolutism and relativism II

Arguments for moral absolutism

Unit 5: Genetics and human nature

Genetics and human nature. Could it be that by interfering with the human genome, either by enhancement or therapy we would be threatening the very nature of what it is to be a human being?

Unit 6: Genetic modification

Does our new understanding of genetics make a new eugenics movement acceptable? Would we end up with the problems that we abhore in the Nazis’ programme, or could it be that the new technology will bring a new benign eugenics?

Unit 7: Virtue ethics and deontological ethics

Another philosophical unit considering various ethical theories such as Virtue Theory and Kantianism.

Unit 8: Utilitarianism

Another philosophical unit considering various ethical theories such as Utilitarianism.

Unit 9: Therapeutic cloning

Therapeutic cloning and the moral status of the embryo. Is it acceptable to use embryos as means to the ending of suffering?

Unit 10: Bioethics and the developing world

The ethics of biotechnology in the devloping world. Should there be a market in human organs? Should there be double standards in clinical trials given the very different conditions in the developing world and the developed world?

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting the final course assignment. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.


Description Costs
Course Fee £324.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Amna Whiston

Dr Amna Whiston is a philosopher specialising in moral philosophy and the philosophy of mind with a range of philosophical interests, research and teaching experiences that include Kant’s moral philosophy, philosophy of the emotions, Cartesian dualism, Plato, Aristotle, Locke, and Marx. 

Teaching methods

  •  Guided reading of texts.
  •  Group discussions of particular issues.
  •  Questions to be answered in personal folders.
  •  Debating from positions given rather than from personal belief (to hone skills of debate).


Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will have gained the following skills:

  • The ability to think philosophically.
  • The ability to describe key issues in bioethics.
  • The ability to identify arguments for and against various positions in bioethics.
  • The ability to construct their own arguments about the issues to which they have been introduced.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.