Fall 2010                                                                                            

Andrea Bonnicksen, Zulauf 401, 753-7059, albcorn@niu.edu

Office hours: T 1:00 – 1:50;  T 3:30 – 4:30; W 1:15 – 2:15



Synthetic biology, inheritable genetic alterations, personalized genomics, DNA data banks . . . these are only some of the areas of inquiry in the life sciences that have attracted public interest and attention for their societal, ethical, and policy implications. In this class we will examine ethical and policy implications of selected areas of biotechnology that are part of contemporary public debate. For each area we will identify risks and benefits, examine how the issues are framed in public discourse, and consider what policies if any ought to be initiated to enable and/or restrict the developing biotechnology. The key questions are these: Who benefits from these biotechnologies? How can they be managed so as to maximize their benefits and minimize their drawbacks? What regulatory models, if any, are most appropriate? How do these technologies fit into our belief systems about the desirability of emerging biotechnologies in our individual lives and for society more generally? 



Green, Ronald M. Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice. New Haven CT:

Yale University Press, 2007.


Wilson, E. O. The Future of Life. New York: Vintage Books, 2002.


Required readings also include items on electronic reserve that are indicated below as ER. They are available through the eReserves link on NIU Blackboard. You will find this link by entering Blackboard for POLS 322 and clicking on eReserves on the left side.


NOTE: Many of the readings come from the Bioethics Briefing Book. The table of contents for this briefing book is accessed through the eReserves link on Blackboard. Click on this link and the table of contents pages will appear. Scroll down and click on and print the chapters that are listed in the syllabus below. We will cover only some of the chapters. 





Fukuyama, F. Our Posthuman Future. New York: Picador, 2002, pp. 3-17. ER


Bailey, Ronald. Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech

Revolution. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005, pp. 15-23. ER


Kaebnick, G.E. “Nature, Human Nature, and Biotechnology.” In Bioethics Briefing Book

(Ch. 25). ER



Murray, T.H. “Sports Enhancement.” In Bioethics Briefing Book (Ch. 33). ER


Greely, H. and B. Sahakian. “Towards Responsible Use of Cognitive-

Enhancing Drugs by the Healthy.” Nature 456:702-05 (December 11, 2008). ER



Asch, A., “Assisted Reproduction.” In Bioethics Briefing Book (Ch. 2). ER


Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “Child-Rearing

Ability and the Provision of Fertility Services.” Fertility and Sterility 92(3):864-67 (2009). ER



Press, N. “Genetic Testing and Screening.” In Bioethics Briefing Book (Ch. 16). ER


Laberge, A-M. and . Burke, “Personalized Medicine and Genomics.” In Bioethics Briefing Book (Ch. 29). ER


Andrews, L. Future Perfect. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001, pp. 1-14. ER


SEPTEMBER 21, 23            DNA DATA BANKS 

Maschke, K.J. “Biobanks: DNA and Research.” In Bioethics Briefing Book (Ch. 3). ER


Maschke, K.J. “DNA and Law Enforcement.” In Bioethics Briefing Book (Ch. 10). ER



Green, Ronald M. Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice. New Haven CT:

Yale University Press, 2007.

Chapter 1: The idea of genetic enhancement

Chapter 2: Possible techniques

Chapter 3: Drawing lines

Chapter 4: Risks

Chapter 5: Parents and procreation

Chapter 6: Genetics and power

Chapter 7: Tampering with nature

Chapter 8: Guidelines





Hyun, I., “Stem Cells.” In Bioethics Briefing Book (Ch. 34). ER


“President George W. Bush’s address on Stem Cell Research.” http://archives.cnn.com/2001/ALLPOLITICS/08/09/bush.transcript/ ER


Barack Obama. “Executive Order 13505 of March 9, 2009: Removing Barriers to

Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells.” Federal Register

74:46 (10667-68). ER


Kiatpongsan, S. and D. Sipp. “Monitoring and Regulating Offshore Stem Cell Clinics.”

Science 323:1564-65 (March 20, 2009).



Brock, D. “Cloning Human Beings: An Assessment of the Ethical Issues Pro and Con.”

In Clones and Clones, ed. By M.C. Nussbaum and C.R Sunstein. New York: Norton, 1998, pp. 141-141-164. ER


Nussbaum, M.C. “Little C” (fiction).  In Clones and Clones, ed. By M.C. Nussbaum and

C.R Sunstein. New York: Norton, 1998, pp. 338-46. ER


National Conference of State Legislatures. “State Human Cloning Laws.” January 2008.

http://www.ncsl.org/IssuesResearch/Health/HumanCloningLaws/tabid/14284/Default.aspx  ER


OCTOBER 26                       NANOTECHNOLOGY

Michelson, E.S. et al. “Nanotechnology.” In Bioethics Briefing Book (Ch. 24). ER


Keiper, A. “Nanoethics as a Discipline?” New Atlantis. Spring 2007 16:55-67. ER



Garfinkel, M.S. et al. “Synthetic Biology.” In Bioethics Briefing Book (Ch. 35). ER


Parens, E. et al. “Do We Need ‘Synthetic Bioethics’”? Science 321:1449 (September 12,

2008). ER


Browse material from the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, which is holding hearings on synthetic biology. www.bioethics.gov/background



Rogers, Lesley J., and Gisela Kaplan. “All Animals are Not Equal: The Interface between

Scientific Knowledge and Legislation for Animal Rights.” In Cass R. Sunstein and Martha C. Nussbaum, eds. Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. New York: Oxford, 2004, pp. 175-202. ER


Greene, M. et al. “Moral Issues of Human-Non-Human Primate Neural Grafting.” 

Science 309:385-86 (July 15, 2005). ER


NOVEMBER 11, 16, 18, 23                         TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Wilson, E.O. The Future of Life. New York: Vintage Books, 2002. Read entire book.


Resnik, D.B. and C.J. Portier, “Environment and Health.” In Bioethics Briefing Book (Ch.

13). ER



Callahan, D., “Health Care Costs and Medical Technology.” In Bioethics Briefing Book

(Ch. 17). ER


Daniels, N., “Health Care Reform.” In Bioethics Briefing Book (Ch. 18). ER



Grades will be based on two exams, a journal in six entries, and participation/attendance, as follows:

Midterm exam                         50 points

Final exam                               50 points

Journal                                     60 points

Participation/attendance         30 points


Final grades will be allocated as follows:

171 – 190 = A; 152 – 170 = B; 133 – 151 = C; 114 – 132 = D; below 114 = F



The exams will be given October 7 and December 7. They will be short answer and multipart essay. Make-up exams will be given only for documented serious illness or a death in the family and only if you contact me AHEAD of the exam (753-7059 -- leave a message if necessary).


Journal entries

Journal writing is based on the assumption that people learn when writing and that writing encourages thinking and exploration of ideas. Approximately every two weeks you will submit a typed journal entry related to a topic covered in the readings during that two-week period. It is acceptable to read and discuss newspaper articles listed in the Bioethics Briefing Book as long as you relate the articles to the material in the briefing book. 


The scope of the entry is up to you, but it is better to write a carefully thought out entry on a fairly narrow subject than to write a breezy essay that shifts from one idea to another. In other words, strive for a central message or theme and ground your ideas in the readings.  If some topics have personal relevance for you, you are encouraged to write about them and to compare/contrast those experiences with concepts and assumptions contained in the readings. A serious entry should be at least 2 typed pages. Late entries will not be accepted, nor  will e-mailed entries. Please bring hard copies to class or, if you cannot be in class that day, slide the papers under my door in Zulauf 401. Grammar and spelling count. I will look to the following in grading individual entries.


  • Is the essay thoughtful and carefully written?
  • Is the essay grounded explicitly in the readings? This is important. You must explicitly refer to ideas, questions, or information in the reading that prompted you to write on this topic. 
  • Are your arguments well-grounded (i.e., do they avoid empty editorializing)?
  • If you quote from another source, do you put quotation marks around the passage and cite the source? If you use another source, including the assigned reading, for general ideas, do you cite the source?
  • Does the essay make effective use of examples and analogies to illustrate points?
  • Do you have a unifying message or theme?  
  • Is your essay at least two typed two pages long?



In addition to handing in a hard copy of each journal entry, you must post each on SafeAssign (available through Blackboard). Entries will be graded only if they have been uploaded to SafeAssign.



The participation grade will be determined primarily by attendance and discussion in class. You are expected to read the material before it is covered in class and knowingly to participate in discussions based on the readings. Participation grades will be decided as follows:

A = regular and informed participation and excellent attendance (3 or fewer absences)

B = occasional and thoughtful participation and good attendance (4 or fewer absences)

C = adequate attendance (5-6 absences)

D = less than adequate attendance (7-9 absences)

F = rare attendance (10 or more absences)


I appeal to the grace of individuals who are more talkative to raise their hands to be recognized before speaking so that all students may be given the opportunity to contribute. I will also give occasional short optional assignments that can count toward class participation.



September 9                Journal 1 due

September 23              Journal 2 due

October 7                    Midterm exam

October 14                  Journal 3 due

November 2                Journal 4 due

November 16              Journal 5 due

December 2                 Journal 6 due

December 7                 Final exam





You are expected to arrive on time and to remain for the entire session unless excused by the professor beforehand or confronted with a serious personal emergency. It is not acceptable to walk in and out of class to answer cell phones, take casual restroom or snack breaks, or attend to other personal matters. Cell phones, pagers, or any electronic devices that make noise must be turned off during class. No one should talk while someone else is talking; this includes comments meant for a classmate rather than the entire group. What may seem like a whisper or a harmless remark to one person can be a distraction to someone else. Classroom dialogue and behavior should always be courteous, respectful of others, and consistent with the expectations set forth by the university.



Plagiarism is a serious offense. As stated in the Northern Illinois University Undergraduate Catalog, “The attempt of any student to present as his or her own work that which he or she has not produced is regarded by the faculty and administration as a serious offense. Students are considered to have cheated if they copy the work or another during an examination or turn in a paper or an assignment written, in whole or in part, by someone else. Students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazine, or other sources or if they paraphrase ideas from such sources without acknowledging them. Students guilty of, or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university.” You are encouraged to look at this link to test your understanding of what plagiarism is and how to avoid it: http://lrs.tvu.ac.uk/find/Plagiarism_tutorial/index.html. If one of your journal essays is plagiarized, you will receive no credit for the essay. If this happens a second time, you will receive no points for the journal portion of the class grade.


Statement Concerning Students with Disabilities

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building. CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.    


Undergraduate Writing Awards

The Department of Political Science recognizes, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies, such as independent studies or honors theses. Winners are expected to attend the Department’s spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate and a check for $50.00. No more than two papers may be submitted by a student.  There is no requirement as to the length of papers submitted for the award. Often the Department awards prizes for both an outstanding short paper and an outstanding long paper. The number and types of award is dependent upon the papers submitted for consideration in any given year. Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing. Only papers written in the previous calendar year are considered for the award. However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the following year’s competition even if the student has graduated.  Papers can be submitted by students or faculty and must be supplied in triplicate to the undergraduate secretary.  All copies must have two cover pages – one with the student’s name and one without the student’s name.  Papers are not to be stapled or bound.  Instead, please use paper clips.   Papers are generally due in March and notice of call for papers and submission deadlines will be published in the department e-announcements. You may also contact the department for information at 753-1015.


Department of Political Science Web Site

Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science website on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu.