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AZA1264: Ethics and biotechnology

6 points, SCA Band 1, 0.125 EFTSL

Undergraduate – Unit

Refer to the specific census and withdrawal datesfor the semester(s) in which this unit is offered.






South Africa

  • Second semester 2018 (On-campus)




The unit investigates how the law and public policy should respond to advances in medicine and biotechnology. The unit adopts a global perspective but looks at issues through a South African and African lens. Issues that are and covered includes: whether employers and insurance companies should be permitted to discriminate among applicants on the basis of their genetic profile; whether the law should protect individuals’ genetic privacy or whether we have a duty to share our genetic knowledge; whether the law should act paternalistically to prevent people from harming themselves; whether people who are partly responsible for their own bad health should receive lower priority of care in hospitals, or whether advances in knowledge in the biological bases for behaviour give us reason to doubt individual responsibility. These issues are linked to the situation regarding bio-technology in South Africa and Africa in general, with particular reference to some of the ethical dilemmas encountered within this context.


On successfully completing the unit, students will have:

  1. familiarity with the key philosophical approaches to discrimination, autonomy, responsibility and equality as they apply to debates within bioethics and relating these approaches to the South African and African context;
  2. skills enabling them to think critically about key ethical, policy and legal issues raised by recent advances in medicine and biotechnology;
  3. the ability to make informed judgements about those ethical, policy and legal issues.
  4. be able to critically assess the situation in South Africa and its accompanying ethical dilemmas as it relates to bio-technology.


Within semester assessment: 70% + Exam: 30%

Workload requirements

Minimum total expected workload to achieve the learning outcomes for this unit is 144 hours per semester typically comprising a mixture of scheduled learning activities and independent study. A unit requires on average three/four hours of scheduled activities per week. Scheduled activities may include a combination of teacher directed learning, peer directed learning and online engagement.

Chief examiner(s)

Dr Thando Nkohla

This unit applies to the following area(s) of study

Philosophy and ethics – South Africa

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