POLS 323 – Biomedicine and the Law

Spring 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


This class examines emerging bioethical and legal principles that govern novel and sometimes contentious biomedical developments. Although some legal uncertainties posed by novel technologies are resolved with fairly straightforward laws and judicial decisions, others evolve over a long period or time or may never lead to a working consensus. Whether clarity or ambiguity prevails, public debate and action revolve around an interdisciplinary exploration of legal and bioethical precedents and approaches.


This semester we will examine conflicts in biomedicine and the law relating to assisted reproductive technologies, organ procurement, the legal status of biological tissues, end-of-life decision making, and other topics. Using a legal casebook, we will review appellate court cases, state statutes, model laws, professional association guidelines, and other sources of authority that come into play as decision makers strive to craft guidelines governing novel situations. For example, who is the legal parent in cases of surrogacy when two or more persons have a biological link (genetic or gestational) to the child in question?  Should family members have the authority to procure gametes from a dying relative to enable posthumous reproduction? What legal interests, if any, do patients have over tissues removed from their body during surgery that may later prove to have financial value? What rights do children have in making decisions about their own health care? 


In this class you can expect to:


·         Practice critical thinking that will set the stage for examining future legal disputes that intersect with biomedical ethics,

·         Gain skills in interpreting legal cases,

·         Further your understanding of the role of precedent in the evolution of law, and

·         Appreciate the intermixing of legally binding sources of law (constitutional, case, statutory, administrative) with non-legally binding guidelines


Because the issues we discuss are in the news frequently, you are encouraged to watch for legal developments reported in reputable newspapers and other sources relating to biomedical ethics and the law. In the week before this semester began, for example, items were published in the New York Times regarding a surrogate who refused to yield custody of a baby she bore for another couple, a same-sex couple contesting motherhood for a child born through assisted reproductive technologies, the Montana Supreme Court’s interpretation of a law relating to physician-assisted suicide, and an essay calling for the right of an individual to receive payment for giving a kidney to someone in need. You are also encouraged to share websites and other information related to careers in bioethics or health law (e.g., Google health or family law programs) or interdisciplinary law programs (e.g., hospital administration/law/bioethics).




Barry R. Furrow, et al. Bioethics: Health Care Law and Ethics. St. Paul MN:

            Thomson/West, 2008. 6th edition.



Principles of bioethics, 1-5

Theories of bioethics, 5-11

New approaches to bioethics, 11-14

Codes of ethics, 14-19

Relationship between ethics and law, 19-22



Casebooks, reading cases, writing a case brief 


Nature of precedent  


Sample case McFall v. Shimp 10 Pa. D. & C. 3d 90 (1978)



State and federal court system 


Justices on current US Supreme Court




Attributes of being a person, 23-31

Constitutional, statutory, common law dimensions, 31-39



Introduction, 99-105

Uniform Parentage Act, 105-107, 117-120

Frozen embryos (Davis v. Davis), 120-133

Surrogacy (In re Baby M, Johnson v. Calvert), 133-150

Reproductive cloning, 158-162

Stem cell research, 163-166


FEBRUARY 16                    EXAM 1                    



In re AC, 166-176



Concept of distributive justice, 451-455

Allocating scarce organs, 455-463

Procuring organs and tissues, 463-475


MARCH 4, 16                       LEGAL ISSUES IN HUMAN GENETICS

Introduction, 189-198

Privacy issues, 203-204

Discrimination, 204-206

Genetic screening of newborns, 215-216


MARCH 18, 23                     DEFINING DEATH

Development of brain death definition, 217-226

Organ donation (In re TACP), 226-229


MARCH 30                           EXAM 2  



Constitutional dimensions (Cruzan v. Director), 245-261

Competent patients (Bouvia v. Superior Court), 261-269

Determining competency, 279-283

Advance directives and proxies, 287-294

When preferences are not known (In re Conroy), 304-307)

Active/passive, withdrawing/withholding distinctions, 307-311

When families disagree (Guardianship of Schiavo), 325-331

When a person was never competent (Belchertown v. Saikewicz), 334-338

When a person was never competent (In re Storar), 336-338

Deciding for children (Newmark v. Williams), 342-348

Physician-assisted suicide (Washington v. Glucksberg), 374-385

Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, 393-400



International norms, 405-410

Regulations in U.S., 411-413, 420-424

Research with children, 435-436

Commercial elements of research, 442-446



Contraception, 39-43

Abortion (Roe v. Wade), 47-53

Abortion (Planned Parenthood v. Casey), 53-62 skim

Sterilization, 83-76

Wrongful birth, life, conception, 87-99


MAY 4                      EXAM  3 



            www.oyez.org; www.supremecourtus.gov (U.S.Supreme Court)

            http://thomas.loc.gov (legislative, executive, judicial branches)

            www.uscourts.gov (all courts)

www.bioethics.upenn.edu  (bioethics website)

http://www.bioethics.upenn.edu/news_archive.shtml (news archive)



Grades will be based on three exams worth 45 points each, 3 short papers worth 15 points each, and a participation/attendance score worth a possible 30 points. The points and due dates are:


Paper 1                                    15 points                     February 9

Exam 1                                    45 points                     February 16

Paper 2                                    15 points                     March 4

Exam 2                                    45 points                     March 30

Paper 3                                    15 points                     April 15

Exam 3                                    45 points                     May 4

Attendance/participation        30 points


                                               210 points


189– 210 = A; 168 – 188 = B; 147 - 167 = C; 126 – 146 = D; below 126 = F


Exams.Exams are scheduled for February 16, March 30, and May 4. They will be identification/short answer/essay; more information will be given in class. 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).


Short papers. – Three papers (due February 9, March 4, and April 15) will enable you to think about more carefully about issues raised in the book and in class. They will give practice in developing arguments, addressing counter-arguments, and clarifying your own position. Paper topics will be posted one week before the due date. You will have two questions to choose between. The papers will be typed and ~ 2 double spaced typed (NOT double-double spaced) pages with normal one-inch margins. In the papers, you should seriously grapple with the legal dimensions of the question and reveal the nuances of your thinking. You should also come up with clear and supported conclusions. If you use outside sources, give a full citation so I can look up the source if necessary. You must scan all papers through SafeAssign (available in the BlackBoard system).


Each paper will be due in hard copy in class. If you cannot be in class that day, slide the entries under my door ahead of time in Zulauf 401. E-mailed entries will not be accepted. Late entries will not be accepted unless you have a serious and documented health problem and have contacted me ahead of time.


The following will count in assigning a paper grade: 

    • Thoughtful, serious, grounded, and critical papers
    • Link to readings, cases, and class discussions; distinctions among cases
    • Grammar, spelling, and clear argumentation


Participation. – All class members are expected to read the material before it is covered in class and participate in discussions that will revolve around questions posed by the book’s authors. To encourage careful reading and informed discussion, 30 points will be allocated as follows:

 27 – 30 points = regular, informed participation; 1 or 2 absences

 24 – 26 points = occasional and thoughtful participation; 3 or 4 absences

 21 – 23 points = occasional participation; 5 absences

 18 – 20 points = infrequent attendance (6 to 7 absences)

 14 – 17 points = rare attendance  (8 to 10 absences)

 0  -   8   points = more than 10 absences

Attendance credit is given to those who remain the entire class session. 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. Occasionally, opportunities for participation credit will be available for those who find it difficult to volunteer in class (e.g. summarizing a case or making information available to the class through an internet search).


Academic dishonesty. – According to the NIU Undergraduate Catalogue, “[s]tudents 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.” Information about plagiarism is available at http://lrs.tvu.ac.uk/find/Plagiarism_tutorial/index.html. Here are some things that count as plagiarism:

·         Copying a passage or paper word-for-word or with only minor changes and without attribution or quotation marks

·         Copying a paper without acknowledgement of sources

·         Using ideas or information from other sources without attribution even if you are not quoting a particular passage

·         Writing a paper that cuts and pastes passages and phrases from internet sources without identification and the web address.

Students who plagiarize or copy in this class will receive an F on the paper in question.  A second instance will lead to an F in the class. If you have questions about how to avoid plagiarism, please see me.


Classroom decorum. -- It is highly disruptive to the class when people walk in and out of class to answer cell phones or take care of other personal business. You are expected to turn off cell phones and electronic devices before class begins and to stay in the class the rest of the session. If you know you must leave a few minutes early, please mention this to me before class begins and then sit near the door. It is also important for students not to talk among themselves when others are speaking. What may seem like a harmless remark to one person can be distracting to others. Classroom dialogue and behavior should be courteous, respectful of others, and consistent with the expectations set forth by the university.


CAAR.-- NIU can make reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities. Students with disabilities for which they may need accommodations should contact the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building during the first two weeks of the semester.


Paper awards.-- The Department of Political Science annually recognizes outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses (all majors are welcome to compete). Winners are expected to attend the Department’s spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate and $50.00. Submit three papers from any undergraduate political science class to a department secretary in Zulauf 415 by February 28. All copies should have two cover pages – one with the student’s name and one without. Only papers written in the previous calendar year (2009) can be considered for the 2010 award. However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the 2010 competition even if the author has graduated.