Directed Reading: Global Health Ethics

Course Number
CHL7001H F4
7000 (Reading Courses & Research Projects)
Course Instructor(s)
, Solomon (Solly) Robert Benatar

course description

The state of population (public) health in many countries and indeed the state of health at a global level are of major current concern. Despite advances in medicine and medical care and massive growth of the global economy, health in the world is characterized by widening disparities within and between countries; lack of access to even basic health care for billions of people; the emergence of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, HIV and many other new infectious diseases; rising costs of commercialized health care; changing health demographics with ageing populations and massive increases in the incidence of obesity and diabetes. Climate change and environmental degradation related to human activity are exacerbating these adverse health trends. The causes of these health crises are multifactorial and complex and overlapping. The ideology lying behind the deliberately structured neoliberal global political economy is one central factor. Introspection and examination of our values and ways of life are required if we wish to understand what has led to these crises and their implications for health and medical research in the remainder of the 21st century. It is in this context, within which new waves of conflict over security and resources, human deprivation and displacement of people will arguably be exacerbated, and epidemics of infectious diseases will continue to emerge, that questions arise about what global/planetary health ethics implies, whether this is needed as a distinct paradigm from the dominant inter-personal bioethics and public health ethics of today and how such a discourse and agenda could be pursued.

course objectives

  • To explore dimensions of local/ global social/societal forces shaping population health
  • To introduce the field of Global Health Ethics
  • To analyze ethical challenges raised by a range of global/planetary health dilemmas
  • To begin to cultivate a global/planetary state of mind

Educational Objectives:
At the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Understand the substance and scope of ‘global/planetary health’ as distinct from international health
  • Discuss the dimensions of forces shaping global/planetary health
  • Identify the field of global/planetary health ethics
  • Interrogate the normative dimensions of global/planetary health ethics
  • Analyze ethical challenges raised by many critical global health issues

Students will also have deeper insights the following questions:

  • Who is responsible for global/planetary health?
  • How could this responsibility be justified?
  • How are the state of global/planetary health and challenges to improving this linked to the global political economy and to the concepts of human rights and social justice?
  • What should/could be done to alter the balance of forces affecting GH?
  • Do we have the intellectual and material resources to reverse current trends and make significant progress towards improved health for all?
  • What is the likelihood that we will use this potential?
  • Could we conceptualize health as a form of the ‘global commons’?
  • How could we begin to change the paradigm within which we live and act?

evaluation criteria

Evaluation Criteria Weight (%) Deadline

Participation in seminar activities



Reflections on each session’s readings



Final paper