• University of Manchester logo

An Introduction to Medical Ethics: The Impact of Disability Screening

Gain a clearer understanding of ethics and the ethical issues surrounding prenatal screening of disabilities.

4,650 enrolled on this course

An Introduction to Medical Ethics: The Impact of Disability Screening

Build your confidence to address ethical questions

Ethics play an important role in healthcare, and need to be considered by health professionals and patients alike. On this course, you will get a practical introduction to ethics, and develop the reasoning skills needed to deal with ethical questions.

You will build your understanding of these issues by examining the ethics of prenatal screening for disabilities, like Down Syndrome and deafness. You will also gain an introduction to bioethics and the development of medical technologies to use in health services.

This course is always available for enrolment however there will be facilitated periods throughout the year. The next facilitated periods for the course will be:

  • Monday 14th June 2021
  • Monday 30th August 2021

During these facilitated periods we aim to interact with students most days and aim to read all comments and questions. The course will be facilitated regularly by us for the four weeks following this date. Outside of the facilitated periods the course will be monitored intermittently by us and we cannot guarantee the same level of support outside those times.

However throughout all of the course, the learning materials and comments of your course-mates and educators will be available for you to view and interact with.

Download video: standard or HD

Skip to 0 minutes and 11 seconds Have you ever been faced with an ethical question and not been sure how to deal with it? Maybe you’ve come across a point of view on an ethical issue that you feel is mistaken, but you’re uncertain about how to argue against it. Are you interested in the ethical issues around disability and screening? My name is Becki Bennett, and I’m a professor of Bioethics at the University of Manchester. And in this course we will explore together some ethical issues to help to give you practical skills in thinking about ethical issues so that you can answer complex ethical questions with confidence. In this course we will consider ethical questions around selecting for and against disability.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds This issue is rarely out of the news, and affects many of our lives. And is something that many of you will already have strong views about. We will introduce real life case studies focusing on the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to select for deafness, and screening for Down syndrome in pregnancy to give you opportunities to explore and discuss issues around disability and reproductive choice. By engaging in the exercises and discussions, you will not only deepen your understanding of these issues, but also develop your skills of argument and critical thinking more generally.

Skip to 1 minute and 40 seconds Considering views that differ from yours is an important part of engaging in ethics, and we’re not trying to change your mind about where you stand on any of these issues. But being able to discuss these issues with sensitivity with people who may take a position that is different from yours will help you to develop a deeper understanding of these issues and to develop skills of respectfully defending your position against the arguments of others. We will be here throughout the course to support you and help you with any questions you may have, and help you build your confidence in this area. We really hope you enjoy this course, and look forward to discussing these complex important issues with you.


  • Week 1

    What is medical ethics?

    • Welcome to the course

      Welcome to the course. In this activity, we will cover what you can expect in the course and you will meet your educators.

    • What is ethics and why is it important?

      In this activity, we will consider what is ethics and consider why ethics is important.

    • Law and ethics

      In this activity, we will look at the relationship between ethics and law and consider why understanding ethical issues is important rather than just focusing on the law.

    • Case study: selecting for deafness

      In this activity, we will introduce you to the first case study which will look at selecting for deafness and we will consider your initial views on this case study.

  • Week 2

    Defending your positions: When intuition is not enough

    • Welcome to week 2

      In this activity, we will introduce the topics we will cover this week.

    • Defending your ethical answer

      In this activity, we will explore why defending your answers to ethical questions is important.

    • Unconscious bias

      In this activity, we will consider what is unconscious bias, reflect on our own unconscious biases and consider how do we avoid bias.

    • The 'ABC Approach' to defending ethical positions

      In this activity, we will consider simple tools to help avoid or balance bias and apply these tools to the case study.

  • Week 3

    An Ethical Toolkit – defending your position further

    • Welcome to week 3

      In this activity we will introduce the topics we will cover this week.

    • Concepts in medical ethics

      In this activity we will consider individual autonomy and harm prevention.

    • Evaluating your arguments

      In this activity we will consider theoretical approaches and principles and applying arguments using the ABC approach.

    • Harm and disability

      In this activity we will consider harm and disability.

  • Week 4

    Screening for Down’s Syndrome – applying what you’ve learned

    • Welcome to week 4

      In this activity we will introduce the topics we will cover this week.

    • Case study: Ethical controversy about screening in pregnancy for Down’s Syndrome

      In this activity, we will introduce you to the second case study which will look at ethical controversy about screening in pregnancy for Down’s Syndrome.

    • A focus on harm

      In this activity we will consider this case study in terms of autonomy and harm.

    • The Non-Identity Problem

      In this activity we will consider the Non-Identity Problem.

    • Wrapping up

      In this activity we will see if your views have changed throughout the course and have the end of course test for those learners who have upgraded the course.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Describe what ethics is and why it is useful to consider ethical issues
  • Develop confidence and skills in critical thinking and dealing with ethical questions
  • Assess the ethical issues around screening for and against disability with case studies considering Down Syndrome and Deafness
  • Discuss controversial ethical issues with sensitivity and respect

Who is the course for?

This course is for anyone with an interest in the ethical issues surrounding screening for disability or ethics in general.

This includes healthcare professionals, policymakers, prospective parents considering prenatal screening, and the medical staff delivering these services.

Who will you learn with?

I have been teaching bioethics at the University of Manchester for 26 years. I run a distance learning MA/LLM in Healthcare Ethics and Law and provide online CPD courses in this area.

Who developed the course?

The University of Manchester

From splitting the atom to giving the world graphene, The University of Manchester has a history of world firsts and brilliant discoveries.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps, but you can complete them as quickly or slowly as you like
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

Learner reviews

Learner reviews cannot be loaded due to your cookie settings. Please and refresh the page to view this content.

Join this course

Start this couse for free, upgrade for extra benefits, or buy Unlimited to access this course and hundreds of other short courses for a year.



Join free and you will get:

  • Access to this course for 6 weeks



Upgrade this course and you will get:

  • Access to this course for as long as it’s on FutureLearn
  • Access to this course’s tests as well as a print and digital Certificate of Achievement once you’re eligible


$279.99 for one year

Buy Unlimited and you will get:

  • Access to this course, and hundreds of other FutureLearn short courses and tests for a year
  • A printable digital Certificate of Achievement on all short courses once you’re eligible
  • The freedom to keep access to any course you've achieved a digital Certificate of Achievement on, for as long as the course exists on FutureLearn
  • The flexibility to complete your choice of short courses in your own time within the year

Find out more about upgrades or Unlimited.

Do you know someone who'd love this course? Tell them about it...

You can use the hashtag #FLmedicalethics to talk about this course on social media.