BIE 796
Bioethics in the Post-Christian Culture


Dr. Hermann Frieboes


This course covers the development of bioethics in the post-Christian culture.  Fundamental philosophical and theological notions underlying the concept of bioethics from a Catholic perspective include human life, freedom, love, truth, reason, and human fulfillment.  These notions have long-standing meaning rooted in the teaching of Christ as proclaimed by His apostles and have formed the basis for the development of the Christian culture in the western world for almost two millennia. Fruits of this culture have included concepts such as respect for human life, human rights, and the human family, all of which form the basis for Catholic bioethics.  

In the past fifty years, a post-Christian culture has emerged in the western world in which the meaning of these fundamental philosophical and theological notions has been distorted or discarded, thus leading to a loss of the concepts that underlie Catholic bioethics.  Consequently, the meaning of bioethics has become unclear, contradictory, and is ultimately unable to provide consistent moral guidance.

The studies in this course will be guided by two major encyclicals of Pope St. John Paul II, which, among other things, teach and define the philosophical and theological notions underlying the long-standing concepts in Catholic bioethics.  These encyclicals include Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) and Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth).  We will examine what these notions mean, how the post-Christian culture has changed or distorted their meaning, and how this development has affected the meaning and practical application of Bioethics.



The course assignments enable an in-depth understanding of Catholic bioethics and the conditions in the post-Christian culture that have led to misunderstanding and conflict with Catholic teaching.  The understanding of these topics will enable students to articulate the associated issues and explore solutions for our contemporary society.

The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) analyzes the factors that have led to the present Culture of Death and the moral issues that are involved: “In our present social context, marked by a dramatic struggle between ‘the culture of life’ and ‘the culture of death,’ there is a need to develop a critical sense, capable of discerning true values and authentic needs.” At the same time, this encyclical expresses the way and the hope for generating a Culture of Life.

Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) analyzes the philosophical and theological notions of human life, freedom, truth, reason, and human fulfillment, and provides the foundation for Catholic moral theology on which rests all of Catholic bioethics.

The syllabus features 12 basic questions which represent the length and breadth of the course. While the student is urged to become familiar with all 12 of these questions and appropriate responses to each of them, the student will choose three of them to serve as topics for each of the student’s three essay assignments.

Each essay should relate to the fundamental philosophical and theological notions underlying the concept of bioethics from a Catholic perspective and their distortion/loss in the post-Christian culture.  The essays should provide an analysis with the goal to repair/restore this culture so that contemporary issues that violate human dignity and human life can be addressed.

There is no final exam in this course.  The 3 essay assignments are due in stages through the course (see Course Requirements below). Students are obliged to summarize what they have read in the course during each week and to make comments online, however brief, once weekly, so as to interact with the other students while pursuing these studies.


The essence of this course consists in the interweaving of the two required readings, the questions/responses associated with the syllabus, and the three essay assignments. The required readings, together with the suggested readings (though certainly not all of them) serve as a basis. The syllabus questions 1 -12 give students the opportunity to move beyond this basis to more specific issues that are of particular interest to them and provide the opportunity for additional philosophical speculation.

Students should read for understanding, but also read questioningly. In this way, the readings should be stimulating as well as informative. The course offers the opportunity for students to proceed at their own pace and, to a certain degree, in their own direction. The course aims at getting students to think about the meaning of human life, freedom, love, truth, reason, and human fulfillment, and so on, and how they play a role, one way or the other, in the understanding and development of Bioethics in post-Christian culture.

It is hoped that students have an abiding personal interest in the subject matter of this course since they are living in a culture wherein life and death are fraught with controversy and tension. It is also hoped that this course will enable students to understand their culture more clearly and envision ways of improving it.


  1. What is life? How many meanings does it have? Is there a hierarchy of meaning? What does life mean in the context of bioethics?  Can the meaning of life be consistent in a post-Christian culture?
  2. What is the critical difference between freedom from reason and freedom through reason? Are we free to the extent that freedom is divorced from reason?  How does the understanding of these ideas affect bioethics?  How do these ideas relate to Christian doctrine regarding human salvation?
  3. What evidence is there for the existence of a Culture of Death, and how does it affect bioethics?  Can a culture divorced from its Christian roots consistently and coherently uphold human life, human rights, and the human family?
  4. What is the meaning of a Culture of Life? How can a Culture of Life be developed? What is the relationship between a Culture of Life and bioethics?  How can a Culture of Life be nurtured in a post-Christian culture?
  5. Is anthropological realism at the center of bioethics? What does it mean to be a person?  How does the Incarnation relate to bioethics?
  6. What is the significance of virtue in bioethics? What is the relationship between virtue and love?  How does the meaning of these concepts relate to bioethics in a post-Christian culture?
  7. What suggestions does Pope John Paul II offer to explain how the present Culture of Death came about? Are there additional explanations?  Are there parallels with our post-Christian culture and other cultures in history?  How did the Catholic understanding of bioethics change as a result of the Culture of Death?
  8. How does the understanding of purpose of human life affect bioethics?  How can this purpose be established and argued to uphold Catholic bioethics?  Can this be argued using reason, faith, or both?
  9. What role does marriage play in promoting a bioethics and a Culture of Life? What is the nature of marriage?  How does changing the understanding of marriage lead to a deconstruction of bioethics?
  10. Is it possible that moral virtue is an important factor in promoting abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, cloning, and certain forms of embryo research? Can there be counterfeit moral virtues, and how would they affect bioethics?
  11. What is the “natural law”? Is it something that can be discovered? Does it have the qualities of universality and objectivity?  How does natural law relate and inform bioethics?  How does natural law relate to reason, faith, or both?
  12. Is truth attainable? Can a sustainable bioethics be established on a basis other than truth? What is the meaning of “relativism” and what problems are associated with it?


Summary Postings (10%):

Every week students will post a summary of their reading for the week.  Summaries are due by Thursday (midnight).  The summaries will assess the students’ understanding of key concepts and ability to synthesize the material.   Summaries should not exceed 800 words in length.  Please post the summaries as plain text on Blackboard (not as attached files).

Discussion Postings (15%):

Every week students will review and comment on at least two summaries by fellow students. Discussion postings are due by Sunday (midnight). The comments should be thoughtful and respectful, and no more than a few sentences in length.

Papers (75%):

Students will submit three essays, each discussing one of the 12 questions presented in this Syllabus.  The essays should be an intelligent, well organized, and informed response to the issues raised by the questions that the student selects.  Essays are to be 7-9 pages in length, double-spaced, with 1” margins.  In addition, a cover page should be included listing the title, the student’s name, and a short abstract (200 words or less) of the essay.  References and a bibliography should be included on additional page(s) at the end.  The papers are due by Saturday (midnight) of Week 5, Week 10, and Week 15, and will be emailed directly to the instructor (they are not posted on Blackboard).

Final Exam:

There is no final exam for this course.


Acceptable File Format:

The preferred file format to submit papers is in Microsoft Word.

Assignment Feedback:

Students can expect feedback within a few days after submission.

Citation Style

Students can use any citation style, as long as it is clear and consistent. As a reminder, Holy Apostles College and Seminary uses the Turabian Citation Style. Please refer to the HACS Thesis Guidelines document located in BlackBoard (starting on page 12 of the document) if you choose to utilize the Turabian format for your paper.



If you have a question related to course content, feedback from graded papers, and/or a private issue for discussion within the instructor-student relationship, email the instructor at:

Response Time

Emails will usually be answered within two business days.


Participation in the discussion forum is required.  Please read the summary posts of your peers and respond to them. The instructor may visit the discussion forum to interact with students. However, if a student has a pressing question for the instructor, the student should send the instructor an email.



Basic Writings




(These two websites offer numerous fine articles pertaining to life and death issues)


 (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


A 94-100; A- 90-93; B+ 87-89; B 84-86; B- 80-83; C+ 77-79; C 74-76; C- 70-73 60-69; F 59 and below

Grading Rubric for the Major Papers and Discussion Board (DB) Postings

0 – Paper;

0 – Summary;

0 – Discussion.

2 – Paper;

2 – Summary;

2 – Discussion.

4 – Paper;

4 – Summary;

4 – Discussion.

6 – Paper;

6 – Summary;

6 – Discussion.

8 – Paper;

8 – Summary;

8 – Discussion.

10 – Paper;

10 – Summary;

10 – Discussion.


Absence of Understanding

Analysis shows no awareness of the discipline or its methodologies as they 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 connections to other concepts; integrates concepts into wider contexts.


Missing Research

Paper shows no evidence of research: citation of sources missing.

Inadequate research and/or documentation

Over-reliance on few sources; spotty documentation of facts in text; pattern of citation errors.

Weak research and/or documentation

Inadequate number or quality of sources; many facts not referenced; several errors in citation format.

Adequate research and documentation but needs improvement

Good choice of sources but could be improved with some additions or better selection; did not always cite sources; too many citation errors.

Solid research and documentation

A number of relevant scholarly sources revealing solid research; sources appropriately referenced in paper; only a few minor citation errors.

Excellent critical research and documentation

Critically selected and relevant scholarly sources demonstrating extensive, in-depth research; sources skillfully incorporated into paper at all necessary points; all citations follow standard bibliographic format.


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.


Inadequate response

Response merely provides laudatory encouragement for original post, e.g., “Excellent post! You really have thought of something there.”

Poor response

Response misses the point of the original posting.

Weak response

Response summarizes original posting to which it responds.

Acceptable response

Response makes a contribution to the posting to which it responds.

Individually-conscious contributory response

Response makes a contribution to the posting to which it responds and fosters its development.

Community-conscious contributory response

Response makes a contribution to the learning community and fosters its development.


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.


An Incomplete is a temporary grade assigned at the discretion of the faculty member. It is typically allowed in situations in which the student has satisfactorily completed major components of the course and has the ability to finish the remaining work without re-enrolling, but has encountered extenuating circumstances, such as illness, that prevent his or her doing so prior to the last day of class.

To request an incomplete, distance-learning students must first download a copy of the Incomplete Request Form. This document is located within the Shared folder of the Files tab in Populi. Secondly, students must fill in any necessary information directly within the PDF document. Lastly, students must send their form to their professor via email for approval. “Approval” should be understood as the professor responding to the student’s email in favor of granting the “Incomplete” status of the student.

Students receiving an Incomplete must submit the missing course work by the end of the sixth week following the semester in which they were enrolled. An incomplete grade (I) automatically turns into the grade of “F” if the course work is not completed.

Students who have completed little or no work are ineligible for an incomplete. Students who feel they are in danger of failing the course due to an inability to complete course assignments should withdraw from the course.

A “W” (Withdrawal) will appear on the student’s permanent record for any course dropped after the end of the first week of a semester to the end of the third week. A “WF” (Withdrawal/Fail) will appear on the student’s permanent record for any course dropped after the end of the third week of a semester and on or before the Friday before the last week of the semester.


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