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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities

Course Descriptions

Following are course descriptions for our Master of Arts program. Course formats vary from small classroom, open lectures, one-on-one interaction with faculty, and independent study. Learn more below.

MHB 401: Foundations of Bioethics

This course will explore the major theories in contemporary bioethics. Participants will learn the history and the application of principlism, casuistry, care ethics, virtue ethics, narrative ethics, pragmatism, and communitarianism.

MHB 402: Medicine & Law

Using judicial opinions as our primary text, this course analyzes how the U.S. legal system mediates conflicts between individuals and the State, parents and children, and doctors and patients in areas including reproductive medicine (contraception, abortion, & assisted reproductive technologies), end-of-life medicine (withdrawal of life support, physician assisted suicide/dying), genetics, and public health.

MHB 403: The History of Medicine

This course will explore major events and trends in the history of European and American health care and medical ethics. Participants will investigate primary and secondary literature and will learn to contextualize current-day medical events through critical historical thinking.

MHB 404: Literature & Medicine

This course surveys the uses of literature and literary theory in understanding the culture(s) of medicine and bioethics. The first half focuses on literature and ethics and interpretation as an ethical act; the second focuses on narratives as a way of knowing in medicine and in bioethics.

MHB 405: Social Science & Medicine

This course examines the ethnography of moral issues in Western medicine, the social science critique of American bioethics, and the manner in which the social sciences can contribute to the understanding of ethical problems in the clinical setting.

MHB 406: The Practice of Bioethics

This course provides an introduction to ways students might put their MH&B knowledge into action, going from theory to practice as students develop careers in various clinical and social contexts. One-third of the course is devoted to the practice of clinical ethics consultation. Other topics covered include academic writing and publishing, teaching skills, successful conference presentations, conducting and regulating research, and offering expert opinion to public debate through the media.

MHB 410: Special Topics in Medical Humanities & Bioethics

This course is a weekly series of hour-long lectures on topics in bioethics and the medical humanities not covered by other courses in the curriculum. These lectures are delivered by various faculty members, each one presenting a series of about three lectures on topics in which they specialize. These lectures are presented once per week throughout the Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters and are only 45 minutes in length. Students must attend all three quarters to receive course credit, which is one unit. This course is taken twice, typically in the first and second year. There is only one series per year, so both first and second-year MA students will attend the same lectures. These are also open to the public, so expect to see some new faces. View the Lecture Series schedule.

MHB 499: Tutorial in MHB

The tutorial is a chance to study with faculty on a topic that they are currently examining for their own research. Multiple faculty members will lead tutorials each quarter. We will announce what each one will cover and you can choose which tutorial most interests you. The bulk of the work is reading outside of class; only five one-hour meetings are required for one tutorial. Students will be graded primarily on their level of discussion at these meetings, though the instructor may also choose to assign writing assigments. Two tutorials must be completed to earn one course unit. Until this new course is approved, it will appear as "Independent Study."

MHB 599: MHB Capstone

This is the final requirement and is designed to demonstrate a student’s competency at employing multiple disciplines to analyze ethics questions within medicine. Two capstone options are offered: a comprehensive exam and a master’s thesis. The comprehensive exam has the advantage that it can be completed in a much shorter timeframe than the thesis, which typically requires multiple drafts and revisions. However, the thesis is an opportunity for students to explore a single topic that interests them and to engage with faculty members in academic scholarship and writing.