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AK2008 Ethics of Biotechnology 7.5 credits

This course focuses on the ethical aspects of biotechnology.

The first part of the course - (lectures 1-3 and seminar 1) - provide an introduction to moral philosophy.  Normative theories like utilitarianism, duty ethics and virtue ethics are explained and problematized. We will also discuss other useful distinctions and notions in moral philosophy e.g. moral dilemmas, action guiding and moral relativism.

The second part of the course (lectures 4-10 and seminars 2-4) focus on specific ethical problems and challenges in the field of biotechnology. These sessions are a mix between traditional lecturing and classroom discussions and the students are expected to partake actively. Topics include: ownership of biological material, ethics of different usage of gene technology, human enhancement, technology in healthcare (e.g. carebots) etc. We will also discuss concepts such as rights, justice, naturalness, privacy, autonomy, and risk.

An important part of this course is the course essay which is written individually by the student but supervised by the teacher. This gives the student an opportunity to apply ethical theory and analyze ethical issues attaching to a specific technology which is relevant for their education and of special interest to them. The essay is written throughout the course and each student will get feedback both from the teacher and another student during the work so that they can improve their essay before handing it in.

Choose semester and course offering to see current information and more about the course, such as course syllabus, study period, and application information.

Headings with content from the Course syllabus AK2008 (Autumn 2013–) are denoted with an asterisk ( )

Content and learning outcomes

Course contents

The course falls in two parts. The first part gives a background in moral philosophy, introducing normative theories like utilitarianism, duty ethics and virtue ethics, etc. The second part departs from practical ethical questions in the field of biotechnology. Questions to be discussed include: Is there an ethical difference between therapeutic and reproductive cloning? Should research on stem cells be legal? Are we the owners of our bodies and if so, should we be allowed to sell our bodily organs? How does gene technology affect the possibilities of giving everyone fair chances in life? How should we cope with risks associated with gene technology? The practical problems dealt with in the course will have influence on discussions of concepts such as rights, justice, ownership, naturalness, integrity, autonomy, and risk.

Intended learning outcomes

After completed course the student should be able to

  • outline the basic theories and concepts of moral philosophy, and apply those theories and concepts on problems in the field of biotechnology,
  • identify and discuss in a critical manner, orally as well as in written form, ethical problems in the field of biotechnology,
  • assess the quality of arguments put forth in the field of biotechnology and argue, in an independent and structured way, for or against possible positions held on central issues,
  • analyse, independently and in written form, a philosophical problem or area of inquiry related to biotechnology.

Literature and preparations

Specific prerequisites

120 credits academic studies in technology or natural science, including documented proficiency in English  (English 6).

Recommended prerequisites

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Examination and completion

If the course is discontinued, students may request to be examined during the following two academic years.

Grading scale

A, B, C, D, E, FX, F


  • DEL1 - Attendance, 1.5 credits, grading scale: P, F
  • TEN1 - Examination, 3.0 credits, grading scale: A, B, C, D, E, FX, F
  • ÖVN1 - Homework, 3.0 credits, grading scale: A, B, C, D, E, FX, F

Based on recommendation from KTH’s coordinator for disabilities, the examiner will decide how to adapt an examination for students with documented disability.

The examiner may apply another examination format when re-examining individual students.

Other requirements for final grade

  • Attendance (DEL1; 1,5 cr)
  • Exam (TEN1; 3 cr)
  • Essay (ÖVN1; 3 cr)

Opportunity to complete the requirements via supplementary examination

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Opportunity to raise an approved grade via renewed examination

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Ethical approach

  • All members of a group are responsible for the group's work.
  • In any assessment, every student shall honestly disclose any help received and sources used.
  • In an oral assessment, every student shall be able to present and answer questions about the entire assignment and solution.

Further information

Course room in Canvas

Registered students find further information about the implementation of the course in the course room in Canvas. A link to the course room can be found under the tab Studies in the Personal menu at the start of the course.

Offered by

Main field of study

This course does not belong to any Main field of study.

Education cycle

Second cycle

Add-on studies

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Barbro Fröding, 08-790 9596,