From CGS and PennMed: A Cross-Disciplinary Master's Degree in Bioethics

The first national code of medical ethics was adopted in Philadelphia in 1847, but when the code's 150th anniversary was celebrated last month in Philadelphia, the program looked at the present and future challenges even more than at the past *.

Meanwhile, back on campus, the School of Arts and Sciences' College of General Studies and PennMed's Center for Bioethics were putting the finishing touches on a new professional master's degree that is geared particularly to those challenges as they are faced by today's health care professionals.

The new program, one of several innovative master's degrees coming up for approval by the Trustees this spring, has an enrollment deadline of May 1.

The Master's in Bioethics is not intended as a first professional degree, nor as a prelude to doctoral training in bioethics, the CGS course description notes carefully.

Instead, the program is designed to combine bioethics with another discipline or with professional practice. Bioethics is by its nature a subject that crosses traditional boundaries between academic disciplines. The advanced study of bioethics at Penn brings together liberal arts disciplines including philosophy, history and sociology of science, psychology, sociology, and anthropology, with the expertise of Penn's professional schools including medicine, law and health economics. Thus the Master's in Bioethics program is designed to provide its graduates with the interdisciplinary training they will need in order to address the moral challenges in health care today and tomorrow.

Who Can Enroll?

The new degree program is not open to undergraduates, but is open to:
-- Mid-career and senior health care professionals, including physicians, nurses, health care administrators, social workers, other allied health professionals, and other practitioners and teachers;

-- Students already enrolled or admitted to a graduate or professional degree program, such as medicine, law or a Ph.D. program, who want to combine bioethics with their primary training;

-- Postbaccalaureate students with a special interest in the field itselfbut who understand that the degree is "not designed to be sufficient training for job placement."

The Program Committee and the Graduate Studies Director will admit students based on their academic records, and on their professional experience where applicable. Preference will be given to students who bring some health care experience to the program. Admission to the M.Bioethics program requires a bachelor's degree with a strong academic record from an accredited college or university. Students having only an undergraduate degree will be required to have at least a 3.3 g.p.a. Standardized tests like the GRE or the MCAT will not be required for admission to the Master's in Bioethics program. Students may be either part-time or full-time, and will pay regular SAS graduate tuition on a per-course basis. It should be possible for full-time students to complete the program in one calendar year, including summer. Part-time students may choose to complete the program over a more extended time (two-three years). Students will not be eligible for University fellowships or teaching assistantships. Full-time students may be eligible for limited guaranteed student loans; part-time students may be eligible for partial loans. University of Pennsylvania undergraduate students will not be admitted to the M.Bioethics program on a submatriculation basis.

Inquiries should be directed to Dr. Glenn McGee, acting Graduate Studies Director at the Center for Bioethics, (215) 573-8103; or Dr. Monique Borque, Assistant Dean of the College of General Studies, (215) 898-7326; or by email to


Each student in the M.Bioethics program will work with the Graduate Studies Director who will guide student course selection and research, and direct an internship in research or clinical ethics. Additional student supervision will be given by members of the Center faculty as well as other faculty at Penn working in various areas of bioethics. The program will seek to provide students with a broad range of experience, both in the classroom and in health care settings. Individual students will be able to place particular emphasis on areas of special interest through work in elective courses or in the selection of a research or clinical internship. A project involving either a substantial research paper or a clinical internship in a health care setting is also required for completion of the program.

Nine course units are required for the degree, including:

Program Leadership

The Center will shortly announce the appointment of a Graduate Studies Director who will work with Dr. Monique Borque, assistant dean of CGS, in administering the program.

Dr. Samuel Freeman of Philosophy chairs the Program Committee for the new degree, and is on the program faculty along with ten other members of SAS, nine from the Center, three from PennMed, two from Nursing, and one each from Law, Wharton and the Leonard Davis Institute. The complete faculty roster:

Mark Adams, History & Sociology of Science
Robert Aronowitz, Center for Bioethics
David Asch, School of Medicine
Jonathan Baron, Psychology
Charles Bosk, Sociology
Arthur Caplan, Center for Bioethics
Mildred Cho, Center for Bioethics
Janet Deatrick, School of Nursing
Zoltan Domotor, Philosophy
Renee Fox, Sociology
Samuel Freeman, Philosophy
Alan Hillman, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics
David Hufford, Folklore and Folklife
Rebecca Huss-Ashmore, Anthropology
William Kissick, School of Medicine
Paul Lanken, School of Medicine
Susan Lindee, History & Sociology of Science
Richard G. Lonsdorf, Law School (emeritus)
Glenn McGee, Center for Bioethics
Jon F. Merz, Center for Bioethics
Jonathan Moreno, Center for Bioethics
Charles Rosenberg, History & Sociology of Science
Arnold J. Rosoff, Wharton School
Pamela Sankar, Center for Bioethics
Rosemary Stevens, History & Sociology of Science
Joyce Thompson, School of Nursing
Peter Ubel, Center for Bioethics
Paul Wolpe, Center for Bioethics


* On the panel on challenges in the 1990s were Drs. Rosemary Stevens and Charles Rosenberg of History & Sociology of Science and Paul Roote of the Center for Bioethics. Dr. Arthur Caplan of the Center led the Roundtable on Future Challenges.


'Distance Learning' in Bioethics

A measure of the growing public interest in bioethics is the website phenomenon wrought by PennMed's Center for Bioethics at With information on genetics, bioethics for beginners, gene therapy and a virtual library, it has reportedly served over a million people throughout the world since its inception in 1993.

And just last month it expanded: The site now offers "Fireside Chat": a four-part, state-of-the-art Internet Course about ethical issues in genetic testing, gene therapy, and the Human Genome Project. Combining live, one-on-one learning with a "virtual classroom," written lectures and an email listserv, the site allows live conversation among geneticists, public policy makers, Penn alumni and others--including Nobel prize winners and members of the media. Dr. Glenn McGee, assistant professor of bioethics and director of the Internet Project, calls it the beginning of distance learning in bioethics, a program that "allows students to enroll in a Penn course from where the live." The most recent Fireside Chat was held March 22, led by Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center.

Coming April 5 is "Threats to the Privacy of Information in a Genetic Era."


Volume 43 Number 28
April 1, 1997

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