Course Number: BIE 661
Course Title: Biology and Biotechnologies for Ethicists


Dr. Laura Frieboes, Dr. Hermann Frieboes


1. Course Description

In this course we will study the basic biological principles related to ethical issues such as in vitro fertilization and other reproductive technologies, embryonic and adult stem cells, artificial contraception, and genetic engineering.  As these technologies and issues are constantly changing, we will also cover a basic grounding in the study of biology.  The results of scientific studies filtered through the lens of the popular media can be inaccurate and misleading.  As such, we will also practice reading and analyzing scientific journal articles, so that we are prepared to study scientific advances from their original sources. Finally, we will read key documents that evaluate related ethical issues from the standpoint of the Catholic faith.

2. Envisioned Learning Outcomes

  1. Students will demonstrate a basic grounding in biology, biological principles that will enable them to gain a deeper understanding of bioethics issues.
  2. Students will understand and utilize scientific vocabulary and concepts that will enable them to communicate effectively with people in scientific and clinical fields.
  3. Students will explore and analyze scientific advances from their original sources by learning to read scientific journal articles.
  4. Students will be able to articulate the basic principles that guide the Catholic moral teaching as it applies to medicine and health care.

3. Course Schedule

Week 1

Topics: Introduction to and Internal Organization of the Cell; Intrinsic Dignity of Human Beings;

Sub-Topics: Structure and Function of Cells; Cell Chemistry and Biosynthesis; Proteins; Intro to Organelles; Membrane Structure/ Transport; Intracellular Compartments/ Protein Sorting; Intracellular Vesicular Traffic;

Readings: RH 13-16; EV 1-4

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 1

Week 2

Topics: Internal Organization of the Cell;

Sub-Topics: Cell Metabolism (Mitochondria); Cell Communication; Cytoskeleton; Cell Life Cycle, Aging, and Apoptosis; Mechanics of Cell Division; Cell Junctions, Adhesion and Extracellular Matrix;

Readings: M1-2

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 2; HW1 Due

Week 3

Topics: Basic Genetics; Human Freedom and the Natural Law

Sub-Topics: Heredity; DNA and Chromosomes; DNA Replication, Repair and Recombination; Protein Synthesis; Control of Gene Expression

Readings: M4-6; VS 42-47

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 3

Week 4

Topics: Basic Genetics

Sub-Topics: Genetic Technologies (Gene Therapy, Genetic Screening/ Human Enhancement, Genetic Engineering, Artificial Life, Chimeras)

Readings: D1, A1-7, A21, M7-10

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 4; HW2 Due

Week 5

Topics: Cells in Community; Human Beings as a Unity of Body and Soul;

Sub-Topics: Germ Cells and Fertilization (Stem Cells); Development of Mulicellular Organisms (Cloning)

Readings: A7-8, M11-14, VS 48-53

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 5; Discussion 1 Due

Week 6

Topics: Cells in Community; Methods of Studying Cells and Tissues; Value of Human Life;

Sub-Topics: The Immune System (Vaccines, Viral Therapy); Manipulating Proteins, DNA, RNA; Visualizing Cells

Readings: A9, M15, EV 29-51

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 6; HW3 Due

Week 7

Topics: Intro to Scientific Journal Articles; Anatomy and Physiology: Methods of Study;

Sub-Topics: Scientific Method; Research Methods (i.e. Models, Current Technologies, Histology of Tissues, Visualization)

Readings: M16-18

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 7

Week 8

Topics: Anatomy and Physiology: Nervous System;

Sub-Topics: Central vs. Peripheral Nervous System; Cells of the Nervous System; How Neurons Work; Regeneration and Repair; Spinal Cord/ Peripheral Nerves

Readings: D2, M19-20

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 8; HW4 Due

Week 9

Topics: Anatomy and Physiology: Nervous System; Present-day Threats to Human Life;

Sub-Topics: Brain Anatomy & Physiology; Neuroethics (Psychopharmaceuticals, Brain Surgeries, Neurocognitive Enhancement, Mood and Personality Enhancement); Pain Management; Persistent Vegetative State

Readings: A10-14; A22-23; EV 7-28

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 9; Discussion 2 Due

Week 10

Topics: Anatomy and Physiology: Endocrine System; Sanctity of Human Life;

Sub-Topics: Hormones (Hormone therapies); Endocrine Glands;

Readings: A15-16; EV 52-77

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 10; Journal Article 1 Paper Due

Week 11

Topics: Anatomy and Physiology: Reproductive System

Sub-Topics: Male Reproductive System; Female Reproductive System

Readings: HV – all; DV – all

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 11; HW5 due

Week 12

Topics: Human Procreation

Sub-Topics: Reproductive Technologies (In Vitro Fertilization and Other Infertility Treatments, Artificial Womb, Birth Control Methods, Abortion)

Readings: A17-18; A24-27; M21; DP – all

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 12; Journal Article 2 Paper Due

Week 13

Topics: Anatomy and Physiology: Development and Ageing

Sub-Topics: Prenatal Development; Prenatal Testing (Down Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis, Trisomy 21, Spina Bifida)

 Readings: A28

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 13

Week 14

Topics: Anatomy and Physiology: Development and Ageing

Sub-Topics:  Ageing/ Death (Determination of Death, Cryonics, Life Support, Eugenics, Life Span Extension/ Human Enhancement)

Readings:  A19-20; A29

Notes/ Items Due: Lecture 14; HW6 Due

Week 15

     Final Exam


Homework Assignments (40%):

The bi-weekly homeworks will be based on the preceding 2 or 3 weeks of lectures and due Friday of the following week at 11:59PM PST.  The homeworks will assess the students’ understanding of the science lectures and Church documents, and they will focus on comprehension of key concepts.  They will also evaluate the students’ understanding of important biology concepts related to the topic.  The format of the questions will include several short answer questions and a bioethics essay.

Journal Articles (20%):

Journal Articles will be assigned to the students on Weeks 10 and 12.  The students must read the articles and, if necessary, research any vocabulary, concepts, methods, etc. that are unknown to them in order to understand the article.  The goal is to understand the purpose of the study, background, hypothesis, conclusions, and have some basic understanding of the methods used and results.  However, understanding the details of the experimental methods, results and methods used for data analysis is not necessary.

The students will then submit a one to two page, single spaced report summarizing the paper (purpose of the study, background, hypothesis, methods, results, and conclusions) and either discussing its merits/ weaknesses or comparing the findings with an associated article in the popular media.  These reports will be worth 15% of the students’ total grade for the course.  These reports and the blog comments are due the Friday of Weeks 10 and 12.

Discussion (5%):

Students will participate in an online discussion board discussing a selected bioethics topic with their fellow students (at least 3 comments per article) on Weeks 5 and 9.  Comments may include discussion of the scientific background related to the issue, responses to requests for help in understanding the issue, exploring the ethical implications of the issue, and references to/ discussion of related articles in the popular media.

Final Exam (35%):

The Final Examination will be closed book, closed notes.  It will cover the materials learned in the lectures in Weeks 1-14.  The format of the exam will include short answer questions that incorporate knowledge of both the biology and ethics. All materials tested will be taken directly from the lecture notes, Church documents, and required resources.  No materials from the Journal Articles will be on the Exam.  Similar to the homeworks, the exams will focus on comprehension of key concepts.

Citations in Discussion Posts

For the purposes of the Discussions in Populi, please do provide a full footnote for sources at the end of your post. You will have to type a special character (^) at the beginning and end of your numbers to make a superscript in Populi, e.g. ^1^, ^2^, etcetera. Use the special characters for superscript also in your footnote.

Example Footnote

^1^ Vincent Balaguer, Understanding the Gospels (New York, Scepter Publishers, Inc., 2005), 5, [Hereafter UG].

Also, to bold, italicize, or underline words in Populi, please refer to the “Formatting Guide” located below all discussion/comment fields in Populi.


Multi-Media Animations/Videos:

Church documents:

Discussion Articles:




(Basis of evaluation with explanation regarding the nature of the assignment and the percentage of the grade assigned to each item below). Students who have difficulty with research and composition are encouraged to pursue assistance with the Online Writing Lab (available at

Homework assignments and exams will be graded based on the accuracy of the answers.


A 96-100; A- 90-95; B+ 87-89; B 83-86; B- 80-82; C+ 77-79; C 73-76; C- 70-72 69-60; F 59 and below

Grading Rubric for the Discussion Board (DB) Postings and Journal Article (JA) Papers














Absence of Understanding

Analysis shows no awareness of the discipline or its methodologies as the relate to the topic

Lack of Understanding

Analysis seems to misunderstand some basic concepts of the discipline or lacks ability to articulate them.

Inadequate understanding

Analysis is sometimes unclear in understanding or articulating concepts of the discipline.

Adequate understanding

Analysis demonstrates an understanding of basic concepts of the discipline but could express them with greater clarity.

Solid Understanding

Analysis demonstrates a clear understanding and articulation of concepts with some sense of their wider implications.

Insightful understanding

Analysis clearly demonstrates an understanding and articulation of  concepts of the discipline as they relate to the topic; highlights connec-tions to other con-cepts; integrates concepts into wider contexts.


Incomplete writing

Analysis is only partially written or completely misses the topic

Writing difficult to understand, serious improvement needed

Analysis fails to address the topic; confusing organization or development; little elaboration of position; insufficient control of sentence structure and vocabulary; unacceptable number of errors in grammar, mechanics, and usage

Episodic writing, a mix of strengths and weaknesses.

Analysis noticeably neglects or misinterprets the topic; simplistic or repetitive treatment, only partially-internalized; weak organization and development, some meandering;  simple sentences, below-level diction; distracting errors in grammar, mechanics, and usage

Acceptable writing, but could use some sharpening of skill

Analysis is an uneven response to parts of the topic; somewhat conventional treatment;  satisfactory organization, but more development needed; adequate syntax and diction, but could use more vigor; overall control of grammar, mechanics, and usage, but some errors

Solid writing, with something interesting to say.

Analysis is an adequate response to the topic; some depth and complexity in treatment; persuasive organization and development, with suitable reasons and examples;  level-appropriate syntax and diction;  mastery of grammar, mechanics, and usage, with hardly any error

Command-level writing, making a clear impression

Analysis is a thorough response to the topic; thoughtful and insightful examination of issues; compelling organization and development ; superior syntax and diction; error-free grammar, mechanics, and usage


Holy Apostles College & Seminary is committed to the goal of achieving equal educational opportunities and full participation in higher education for persons with disabilities who qualify for admission to the College. Students enrolled in online courses who have documented disabilities requiring special accommodations should contact Bob Mish, the Director of Online Student Affairs, at or 860-632-3015. In all cases, reasonable accommodations will be made to ensure that all students with disabilities have access to course materials in a mode in which they can receive them. Students who have technological limitations (e.g., slow Internet connection speeds in convents) are asked to notify their instructors the first week of class for alternative means of delivery.


Students at Holy Apostles College & Seminary are expected to practice academic honesty.

Avoiding Plagiarism

In its broadest sense, plagiarism is using someone else's work or ideas, presented or claimed as your own.  At this stage in your academic career, you should be fully conscious of what it means to plagiarize. This is an inherently unethical activity because it entails the uncredited use of someone else's expression of ideas for another's personal advancement; that is, it entails the use of a person merely as a means to another person’s ends. Plagiarism includes: 1. Directly quoting without acknowledging the source. 2. Changing a few words of a text without indicating this was done and/or not acknowledging the source. 3. Not acknowledging that the structure of ideas or logic is from another author. 4. Not acknowledging a unique image (including analogies, similes, metaphors etc.) is from a particular document or author.

Students, where applicable:

     Should identify the title, author, page number/webpage address, and publication date of works when directly quoting small portions of texts, articles, interviews, or websites.

     Students should not copy more than two paragraphs from any source as a major component of papers or projects.

     Should appropriately identify the source of information when paraphrasing (restating) ideas from texts, interviews, articles, or websites.

     Should follow the Holy Apostles College & Seminary Stylesheet (available on the Online Writing Lab’s website at

Consequences of Academic Dishonesty:

Because of the nature of this class, academic dishonesty is taken very seriously.  Students caught plagiarizing will receive a zero for the assignment, and may be withdrawn from the class and/or expelled from Holy Apostles.


Even though you are not required to be logged in at any precise time or day, you are expected to login several times during each week. Because this class is being taught entirely in a technology-mediated forum, it is important to actively participate each week in the course. In a traditional classroom setting for a 3-credit course, students would be required, per the federal standards, to be in class three 50-minute sessions (or 2.5 hours a week) and prepare for class discussions six 50-minute sessions (or 5 hours) a week. Expect to devote at least nine 50-minute sessions (or 7.5 quality hours) a week to this course. A failure on the student’s part to actively participate in the life of the course may result in a reduction of the final grade.

NB: An Incomplete may only be awarded to a student who has maintained a passing grade up to the point of the emergency.  Incomplete grades will change to a grade of F unless the requirements stipulated on the incomplete form are met by the date listed.


Dr. Laura Frieboes has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of California Irvine.  Her dissertation focused on mechanotransduction and signaling in the peripheral nervous system related to chronic compressive neuropathies (i.e. carpal tunnel syndrome).  She also holds a B.A. in Physics from Lewis and Clark College and a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering/ Biomechanics from Columbia University.  Dr. Frieboes was a Lecturer in Bioengineering at the University of Louisville.

Dr. Hermann Frieboes, Ph.D., has a faculty appointment in Bioengineering at the University of Louisville, focusing on cancer research. Dr. Frieboes holds a Master’s degree in Moral Theology from Holy Apostles, as well as a Certificate in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center. His doctoral studies are in Biomedical Engineering, and he holds undergraduate degrees in engineering and the computer and physical sciences. In addition, he has extensive work experience in engineering design, development and management.

In the last several years, Dr. Frieboes and his wife Laura have been extensively involved in adult religious education at their home parish and at monastic retreats, offering presentations and courses on various topics such as faith and reason, development of science and the Church, relationship between science and religion, ethics in business and the workplace, current medical issues, and bioethics.

This syllabus is subject to change over time at the discretion of the course professor.