Wednesday, September 3
1:00 – 4:00pm

Class 1

Topics include: Introduction: Overview of bioethics; overview of design; overview of course, lecture & discussion on the limits of paternalism, and studio work: begin work on short video production on an ethical complexity of paternalism

Course Assignments and Grading

The class will be studio-based.  Class meets as a whole on Wednesdays, 1-4 in EthicsLab (201 Healy); students are also expected to attend at least two Open Studio Hours per week.  Office Hours will also be held in the Lab.

The class has some traditional short writing assignments, which together comprise 15% of the grade for the class.  Peer editing and workshopping papers will be built into course meetings.

Most of the assignments, and the lion’s share of the course grade, will be based on team-based design projects.  While the work is collaborative, all grading will be individual.  The design projects are designed with iterative stages; no prior design experience is expected or assumed; plenty of practice is built in.  Projects will be graded on two metrics:  analytic metrics (which include conceptual clarity, understanding of key philosophical distinctions, etc.) and design metrics (which include level of engagement, risk-taking, etc.).

Throughout, a designation of “formative” means that the assignment is meant to develop skills.  They will be assessed, but only as part of a whole with a later assignment.

A key part of design is iteration and “crits.”  Project teams will present their work to the class, in the case of “class crits,” and to outside guests, in the case of “outside crits.”

Whiteboard Photos

Wednesday, September 10
1:00 – 4:00pm

Class 2

Topics include: Studio work on paternalism video and presentation & class crit of videos.

Assigned Readings and Videos

  • Tom Beauchamp, Medical Paternalism
  • Tom Beauchamp, Right to Refuse Life-Sustaining Treatment (by the way, Tom Beauchamp is one of the most famous living bioethicists, and is here at the Kennedy Institute!)
  • Readings: The court case is complex, following two issues: was the surgery without consent equivalent to battery — yes; was the hospital itself, as employer of the physicians/nurses, liable for the wrong of the physicians, no. Read the highlighted part to follow the first issue. Dax’s caseSchloendorff

Group Videos

Individual videos are embedded below. Alternatively, watch the playlist of all 4 videos.




Whiteboard Photos

Wednesday, September 17
1:00 – 4:00pm

Class 3

Topics include: Lecture & discussion: the limits of traditional informed consent; Studio work: begin work on second design project.

Assigned Readings and Videos

Article 1: Emanuels 4 models

Article 2: Pellegrino

Writing Assignment

Read both articles for class discussion on Wednesday.

Choose one of the following questions, and write a 1–2 page (double-spaced) paper answering it.

  1. What is the difference between the Emanuels’ Interpretive and Deliberative Models?
  2. What does Pellegrino mean by the difference between “positive” and “negative” respect for autonomy?

In either case, the task is to teach the answer, in your own words, as precisely, accurately, and accessibly as you can. Do not use any quotations — the goal is to see how well you understand the concepts yourself, and how well you can explain it to others. Other than the names of these concepts, try not to use overly technical or abstract terms — or at least don’t use any that you don’t explain, in turn.

You will need to read your chosen article several times to be able to accomplish this. A good tip is to read, take notes, underscore, etc., then put away both the article and your notes, and try to explain it to a friend. From that, you’ll often find there are pieces you don’t quite understand — the technical terms sound great, but what is really going on?

You’ll want then to try to draft the 1–2 pages. Then show the written document to another friend and see if they understand the idea. Once again, you may find areas in which ideas remain vague, or you have questions about it. Return to the articles; grapple with the text, try to figure out in as crystalline a form as you can what the distinction they are trying to draw really is.

(This assignment does not ask you to asses the distinction, or to give any reactions or views about it. The goal here is to practice philosophical analysis and communication of an idea.)

This assignment is formative: it will not be graded, but I will go over it in detail with you. The more effort you put into this iteration, the better your chances for learning fine-grained lessons that will make your next written assignment a success!

Writing Tips

I really enjoyed reading your short papers.  Some folks got the idea of teaching an analytic distinction better than others.  In case it’s helpful, I thought I’d post a few tips, to help explain comments you may see on your papers.  Pay attention to these, and the next papers will rock!

Focus.  The point of this assignment was to teach two models & their difference, or again two concepts & their difference — not to assess them or write an essay on them. Look at the instructions again for what it tells you /not/ to include.  Eliminate extraneous commentary, objections, etc. Challenge yourself to answer the questions as succinctly, yet as accurately and accessibly, as possible.

As important as what you keep is what you leave out. This also leaves you more words to do a deeper job on the task at hand!  After drafting, then, go through with a vengeance and eliminate everything that is not exactly on point to the analytic assignment.

Precision.  Your audience should be able to find direct answers to the question. “Positive autonomy (or respect for autonomy) is…” “Negative autonomy is…” “The difference between them, then, is…” “The interpretive model is…” Don’t think essay, think clear logical statements.

Accuracy.  Work to really understand what the central claim is.  As the assignment directions made clear, it isn’t always easy!  After drafting, look through and then go back to the text — did you do justice to the concepts/models?

Clarity of sentences.  After drafting, read each sentence separately and ask what might be in the thought bubble of someone reading it – “Huh?”; “Ok, keep going,”; “Ahh, I get it!”. You don’t want any of the first; you want to make sure you have at least some of the last.

Teach rather than summarize. Here is one way to put the difference. In the latter, you are simply reporting (hopefully in an articulate and independent way) what someone said. If someone asked you a follow-up question, like “But I don’t understand their point!” or “What in the world did they mean by that claim?” a summary can honestly say, “I don’t know; I’m just summarizing what they said.” In contrast, when one is explaining or teaching, one’s goal is to elicit understanding of a concept or set of points in one’s audience.

To do this effectively, you need yourself to understand the point (the concepts, their differences) well enough to be able to answer questions (for instance, “But what do you mean ‘autonomy’ in the first place??”). For just this reason, explaining or teaching rarely follows the precise order of things the author says (or includes all of them). Instead, it tries to synthesize the key issues and then teach them in ways that anticipate confusion, and that offer scaffolding, such as an example, to help your audience process.

Friday, September 29
2:11 – 2:11pm

Class 4

Autonomy in the Face of Illness Presentations & Public Crit

Self-assessment Directions

Please describe the contribution you made to your group’s project on Autonomy in the Face of Illness, and give a self-assessment of your work.  The description can include anything you think is relevant — hours worked, generativity of key ideas, production, leadership, risk-taking, emotional/social intelligence facilitating an effective group dynamic (or mitigating an ineffective group dynamic), public presentation and discussion, uptake of prior lessons from the formative project.  The description should include what you see as the strengths and the weaknesses of your work and contribution.

You can include details about your role in the formative project (on It’s My Body/Doctor Doesn’t Always Know Best), though you should focus most on your role in the second project.

The self-assessment should be in the form of a letter grade, with plusses and minuses allowed, and should include a statement of the criteria — or rubric — you used in determining the grade.

Autonomy in the Context of Illness Projects

Design Model Graphic


First Project Assessment

The scope of your First Project assessment spans everything you have done for the class so far except for the paper you wrote. This includes the first project iteration and crit, the second project iteration we just completed, your performance in last week’s crit, and the self assessment we asked each of you to submit. The first project iteration and crit was assessed in terms of how productively you failed and succeeded—that is, how your second iteration improved on the specific failures and successes we asked your team to focus on.

While we have included comments about your group and its project, you are being graded as an individuals in the context of your team. You are not in competition with other groups, nor are you in competition with your team members. There may be areas where your team succeeded but you failed, and vice versa.

Because the bases for assessment in a class like this are hard to appreciate until one has been through a full iteration of a project, we are intentionally grading this first project in a high and narrow window:  no one gets below a B.  The rubric we used was also very broad for this first project:

  • Substantive engagement in and contribution to the design process, including quality of bioethical reasoning and ideas (contributing meaningful ideas on topic and medium, candid and meaningful engagement in group discussion, problem-solving as challenges arose, use and effective tracking of bioethical concepts and issues, using iterations to improve on ideas and skills from prior project)
  • Ownership in the project (effective leading or active, high-value support that required judgment and problem-solving; persevering in the face of challenges; proactively learning or finding out about elements that would make the product compelling; actively alerting the team to problems as they emerge; putting in the hours to make the product successful; participation in crit)

As the course progresses, you will be expected to understand a more granular set of criteria, and will be assessed against them on a wider grading scale.  See the entry in week 5 for the Stage 2 Rubric!

Wednesday, October 1
1:00 – 4:00pm

Class 5

Ethics & Genetics, Stage 1

We will be delving into the world of personal genomics in the class. In Stage 1 -- this and next week -- we will be working to understand the basics of what personal genomics are (those of you with genetics backgrounds, come prepared to help teach the rest!), and to surface the benefits and risks to getting one's genomic information. At the end of Stage 1, you'll be offered the option of sending in a test kit from 23&Me. As a class, we will primarily be interested in seeing what goes into your decision! We will return to Stage 2 of Personal Genetics later in the semester.

Assigned Readings & Videos for this Week

Project Rubric Going Forward

The grading rubric going forward will be split up into three equally weighted domains:  process, product, and person.  Within each category there will be disciplinary (bioethics) assessment criteria, design assessment criteria, and others.

As before, you will be graded as an individual in the context of your group.  You are not in competition with other groups, nor with people in your group.


Become familiar with the big squiggle. Spend the time necessary to engage in the messy, creative, and divergent nature of the early stages of design work; generate and consider different concepts and possibilities; explore and embrace constraints; create a useful framing of the situation; contribute to the emergence of the sort of fuzzy, provisional, promising direction needed to move into the little squiggle.

Work effectively in the little squiggle. Embrace your direction; take your medium seriously; collect and use precedents and inspiration; explore best practices, principles, methods, tools, and other aspects of your medium; craft a finished product.

Dig into ethical complexity; track concepts with clarity.  As you explore and work to develop a meaningful project, drive your search by what is ethically important, nuanced, surprising, or deep.  See past the social, economic, medical, scientific, political, personal, psychological, and other forms of complexity to grasp the ethical and philosophical complexity of a situation or context. In your discussions with your team and with us, track salient conceptual distinctions we’ve discussed, probe philosophical puzzles, stay away from easy or cliched moral commentary.

Be driven to content. Explore the landscape and boundaries of the context; do broad and deep research; draw and synthesize from multiple sources; dig into interesting areas; identify, unpack, and comprehend nuanced topics.


Deliver an impactful product. Navigate your work to a level of completion ready to introduce into the world; effectively deliver your product to studio jurors and your peers; be able to deliver without the need of supplementary instructions or context given during the crit.

Demonstrate proficiency in the medium. Deliver a product that evidences an authentic engagement with the medium—whether that medium is informed consent forms, acting on film, a comic book, a board game, tarot cards, or anything else. The product should demonstrate familiarity with and strive to achieve professional standards of the medium.

Demonstrate proficiency in the craft. Deliver a product that clearly demonstrates attention to the craft involved with making it. It should be clear that you made intentional, considered, and defensible choices regarding material, fidelity, construction, assembly, implementation, style, etc.

Exhibit bioethical understanding. In your product and during the crit, demonstrate understanding of relevant bioethical concepts, context, and issues.

Make a moral difference.  Deliver a product that has a clear and specific sense of the ethical insight, tension, or reality you are trying to capture or display; deliver a product whose insight is important rather than cliched or obvious; inspire a genuine reaction to the ethical issues you aimed at surfacing.


Fail and succeed productively. Improve on the specific failures and successes of your first project iteration, with a focus on those successes and failures that your instructors highlighted for your team.

Collaborate with resilience.  Take risks; put in the time; work through the frustration, conflicts, and other drama that comes with all collaborative endeavors; lead and/or follow effectively; use your strengths to mitigate the team’s weaknesses, and be open about your weaknesses so that your teammates can supplement them with their strengths.

Critique and be critiqued.  Come prepared for your crit—ready to deliver your product, field questions, respond to critique, collaborate on potential improvements; come prepared to critique others—respect the work of your peers, take it seriously, see and judge it candidly, approach it as an opportunity to work with other teams; strike a balance between defending your work, acknowledging its faults, and being eager to explore potential improvements.

Reflect on your work.  Demonstrate awareness of your successes and failures through the self evaluation, in a way that goes beyond personal enjoyment, effort, or time commitment.

Friday, September 29
2:13 – 2:13pm

Class 7

Elevator Pitch

For this crit you will be presenting an elevator pitch to a group of your choice.  The time you get for the initial pitch is literally the time it takes for the elevator to go from, say, 1st to 4th floor Healy.  Each group will then have a chance to answer questions from the jury and the rest of the class, who will role play as the group designated by the team.  Feel free to divide up areas of expertise among the group.  If the aspects you’ve taken on are not discussed, you will have a chance to fill us in.  The rubric for this project can be found under Class 5.

Wednesday, October 22
1:00 – 4:00pm

Class 8

Clinical Research Ethics: Pre-Eclampsia Project

Assigned Readings and Video

IBC 39 Research Ethics Video

Pregnant Women and Medical Research-A Moral Imperative

The Global Impact of Pre-eclampsia and Eclampsia

Federal Regulations Governing Research with Pregnant Women (This is the full code of regulations for the protection of human subjects – the relevant bit to read is Subpart B, 46.204)

Journey Maps

Start working on your journey maps of your decision whether or not to have your genome sequenced.  Map both your decision points and your reflections.  What feelings have you been experiencing during the process?  What questions would you like to have answered?

Friday, September 29
2:14 – 2:14pm

Class 9

Clinical Research Ethics: Pre-Eclampsia Project

Paper prompt

In his article “Minimal Risk in Research Involving Pregnant Women and Fetuses,” Dr. Carson Strong explores the complex issues surrounding the concept of minimal risk — the threshold that can’t be exceeded for the fetus if the research doesn’t hold out the prospect of direct benefit.  Through discussion of these complexities, he defends 5 conclusions (listed on p. 534).

Write a three-page (double spaced) paper that sets out his argument for each of the five conclusions.  You will want to write an opening paragraph that succinctly teaches the background context here.  Do not try to summarize all of the specific proposals he reviews.  You will, though, need to read those proposals, and his commentary, in order to understand his arguments.

Be as direct, linear, and succinct as you can.  Take the five conclusions and reconstruct their central claim and argument.  Imagine you are trying to explain his arguments to a friend who heard about this issue of research on pregnant women, but wasn’t able to make it to class to learn more background.

It may be helpful to review the ‘writing tips’ posted in Week 3!

A polished draft is due at the start of class.  After some more discussion, we will be workshopping the papers in small groups.  You have until midnight Wednesday evening to turn in the final paper.  Please email the original draft and the final paper to Ali.

Minimal Risk in Research Involving Pregnant Women and Fetuses

Pre-eclampsia project context

Download booklet as PDF

Wednesday, November 5
1:00 – 4:00pm

Class 10


Continue working on your journey maps.

Wednesday, November 12
1:00 – 4:00pm

Class 11

As results start coming in for 23andMe make sure you are reflecting on the genetic testing process in your journey map!

Project Prompt

For the next big public crit, you will be presenting sections of a project that the teams are collaborating on together.  The prompt: Design a learning experience for this class next semester on personal genomics that ultimately impacts the world.  In class next week we will discuss what each group has produced so far.

Friday, September 29
2:16 – 2:16pm

Class 12


Come to class prepared for formal presentations to the class as a whole to get collaborative feedback.  At the end of class, we will explore whether there are any fruitful overlaps or team member shuffles that people might be excited about.  All change would be voluntary; this would be a matter of finding synergies.

Videos of Wall Crits

Wednesday, November 26
1:00 – 4:00pm

Class 13

Group Description

You did a great job in this crit of all participating and responding to questions.  Now we want to know more about the behind-the-scenes work that went into the presentations.  Who contributed what, and what made it valuable?  How did your group’s ideas change over time, and why? Please describe what each team member added and what you felt were the most important contributions of each.  Please email this to Ali either in the body of an email or as a .doc(x)

Studio Work Day

Be prepared to work in studio on your projects today.  If you have to miss class for travel plans please contact Arjun or Maggie for how you will make up the time for your team; easiest may be skyping in.

Formation by Design at Georgetown

Here is Vice Provost of Education Randy Bass’s recent talk at TEDxGeorgetown on the future of university education and the importance of design thinking.

Wednesday, December 3
1:00 – 4:00pm

Class 14

Self Assessments Due Midnight Dec 10th

Please put some effort into making a beautiful self assessment that scaffolds your reflection of the course.  Focus on telling us what work you did, but also assess the group as a whole and tell us what everyone added to the final product.  Please use the rubric (for real) and send it to Ali as a .doc(x) by midnight on Wednesday the 10th.  We are expecting this to be a little longer than your usual assessments, so please allow yourself plenty of time.

Videos of Final Crits