Medical School Electives

For medical students—including those in the Area of Concentration in Medical Humanities and Ethics—the affiliated faculty of the Center for Bioethics & Health Law offer medical school electives in bioethics and the medical humanities. In recent years, these have included:

Ethical Issues in Clinical Practice
Mark Wicclair

This discussion-oriented elective offers students an opportunity to explore important ethical issues in clinical practice with a diverse group of faculty who have particular expertise regarding those issues, including informed consent, competency, surrogate decisionmaking and advance directives, forgoing life-sustaining treatment, futility, physician assisted suicide, euthanasia, confidentiality, reproductive ethics, genetic counseling and genomic sequencing, access to care and rationing. The elective has two components:

  • Seminar Sessions, which explore the current medical ethics literature and related cases.
  • Case Discussion Sessions, at which students will present cases. Each student is expected to present at least one case and lead discussion of it.

Whenever feasible, students will be given an opportunity to participate in ethics consultations and ethics committee meetings. Interested students may choose to develop a paper for possible publication with the assistance of a faculty.


Narrative, Literature, and the Experience of Illness
Gaetan Sgro and Andrew Thurston

This elective provides the senior medical student with a rare opportunity to experience and examine the culture and practice of medicine from the perspective of an outside observer. Through the use of various types of medical literature (poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and essays) and through clinical experiences that are traditionally thought to lie outside of the physician’s role, we will explore the perceptions that patients have of doctors and hospitals as well examine the culture of traditional biomedicine. Through experiencing, reflecting, discussing, and writing about how differently doctors and patients often view illness, disease, treatment, and death, we may gain greater insight into our own beliefs, biases, and potential strengths to provide healing. Anne Fadiman writes in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, “I have always felt that the action most worth watching is not at the center of things, but where the edges meet. I like shorelines, weather fronts, international borders. There are interesting frictions and incongruities in these places, and often if you stand at the point of tangency you can see both sides better than if you are in the middle of either one. This is especially true, I think, when the apposition is cultural.” It is the apposition of the culture of biomedicine and individual, personal experiences of illness that this course will help the student of medicine to examine more closely.