This course offers a transformational journey. Bioethics & Law 101 will explore many contemporary topics in this fascinating field and provide a foundation for analysis of emerging issues. In order to meaningfully address contemporary bioethical issues it is essential that the constitutional structure of government, its limitations, its law and rule making authority, its relationship to individuals, and the processes of judicial review be understood. For this reason we will begin our journey with a review of American constitutional law.

Lesson One and Lesson Two are dedicated to examination of the constitutional structure of the American Federal government, the powers granted it by the Constitution, the nature of federalism and the separation of powers.

Lesson Three introduces the basic test applied by the constitutional structure to assess the validity of a law and the early case law that firmly rooted the concept of judicial review in constitutional dogma, the nature of express and implied powers, and the relationship between those powers and legitimate law making by the legislative branch. 

Lesson Four examines various individual liberties and the concept of equal protection of law as well as levels of scrutiny applied by courts in assessing the validity of laws that touch upon fundamental freedoms and various classifications of persons such as race, religion, ethnicity and sex. 

Subsequent lessons examine the individual liberties that are most frequently at the heart of the debates relevant to the study of bioethics and law: abortion, contraception, sexual expression, marriage, and family life. They include the historical development of the privacy cases that are at the foundation of the explosion in bioethics related cases that followed in the mid to late 20th century.

Additional lessons will further develop the case law associated with marriage, sexual intimacy, and family life, all of which have assumed a privileged place in constitutional doctrine. We will examine the ongoing debate about how the personal value judgments of individual justices may undermine constitutional integrity and representative government. This historic and ongoing debate over judicial restraint and the legitimacy of judicial review is a frequent theme in the course. 

The final lessons examine issues of personal autonomy such as the right to refuse medical care, the roll of proxy decision makers, and ongoing debates regarding physician assisted suicide, as well as the constitutional and statutory protection of religious free exercise, and the constitutional prohibition on the establishment of religion, freedom of speech and its interface with religious liberty. 

Bioethics & Law 101 is a lively and intellectually stimulating course. It is both challenging and enlightening. Most importantly, it will equip you as a literate participant in the debates over life and liberty at the heart of the bioethical crises of our time.

Lesson 1:

Lesson Notes

Source documents:

Declaration of Independence

Constitution of the United States of America

The Bill of Rights

The Constitutional Amendments

Federalist Papers 39, Federalist Papers 51, Federalist Papers 78

Liberty Institute for Faith & Ethics will offer its online readers continued lessons in this free and engaging course. Please contact us here for a password to the limited access portion of our site, which will contain future lesson notes and resources, to be released on a regular basis.