gms | German Medical Science

13. Grazer Konferenz – Teaching Medicine – an Interprofessional Agenda

24. - 26.09.2009, Innsbruck, Österreich

Ethics in the medical curriculum: the Geneva experiment


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  • corresponding author Alexandre Mauron - University of Geneva, Medical Faculty, Institut of d'éthique biomédicale Centre Medical Universitaire, Geneva, Switzerland

13. Grazer Konferenz - Qualität der Lehre: Teaching Medicine – an Interprofessional Agenda. Innsbruck, Österreich, 24.-26.09.2009. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2009. Doc09grako02

doi: 10.3205/09grako02, urn:nbn:de:0183-09grako029

Published: December 14, 2009

© 2009 Mauron.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.


The Faculty of medicine of the University of Geneva was the first in Switzerland to introduce explicit bioethics teaching into the core undergraduate medical curriculum (1995). Insights gained from this experience include the following: Bioethics teaching is easier to introduce in a context of general curricular reform, which is friendly to didactic innovation and emphasizes problem-based learning. The main obstacle to overcome is that bioethics has many dierent “natural” partners (medical leaders, philosophers, theologians, social scientists, etc.) who have conflicting agendas and who may have given little thought to the transformative eect of interdisciplinarity on their own teaching practices. To become sustainable in the long run, bioethics teaching has to persistently avoid two extremes: on one hand, the sort of theory-shy casuistry that often ends up in platitudinous moralizing discourse, and on the other hand, the theory-heavy ethical speculation that puts students and medical practitioners in the position of spectators of abstract philosophical controversy. Bioethics teaching is best conceived of as one component of a medically-oriented humanities and social science "package" that has a legitimate place in the medical curriculum. The secular character of bioethics teaching in a non-religiously aliated medical school must be asserted uncompromisingly.

Bioethics education in the health professions still poses many unanswered questions that should be researched systematically. These include the link between teaching bioethics and changing practices, the goals of continuing bioethics education for practitioners, the feasibility of a common bioethics curriculum for students of medicine and other health care professions, and many more.