Bioethics is a multidisciplinary field focused on ethical issues within healthcare, health policy, and the biomedical sciences. It includes work in medical ethics but extends more broadly to research ethics, public health ethics, global health ethics, as well as some aspects of environmental ethics and food ethics.

Medicine raises a number of questions that can benefit from philosophical inquiry. We strive to understand what health and health care are (medical epistemology) and what they ought to be (medical ethics). In doing so, we engage with scholars from multiple disciplines in health and medical humanities, with patients, and with other community members to advance ethics in health care. Medicine is governed to a large extent by health policies created in legislative bodies. That raises issues relevant to social and political philosophy, such as liberty, equity, and justice in relation to meeting health care needs. In addition, there are metaphysical issues, from whether an eight-cell human embryo is a person, to what counts as death.

Sponsoring Units

Michigan State University’s Department of Philosophy has a large faculty with diverse interests and backgrounds. The curriculum covers the standard areas of Western philosophy and offers a wide range of seminars each year. The Department emphasizes teaching, and boasts several faculty who have won University teaching awards. Interdisciplinary interests (besides health care) represented among the faculty include Women’s and Gender Studies, Cognitive Science, Evolutionary Theory, Philosophy of Science, Agriculture, Cultural Studies, and Sociology. Programs of study are offered at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels.

The Center for Bioethics and Social Justice serves as a teaching, research, and public service unit for the Colleges of Human Medicine, Osteopathic Medicine, Nursing, and Veterinary Medicine, besides its ties to the Colleges of Arts and Letters, Natural Science, Social Science, and Agriculture and Natural Resources. Our Center faculty team teaches courses with health professionals and offers medical ethics consultations in local hospitals. 

The mission of the Center for Bioethics and Social Justice is to educate, research, and engage. The Center works to educate health professionals with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to contribute to a world in which health practices are equitable, inclusive, and bolstered by conditions of social justice. It works on researching the nature of bioethics and enhancing its applications to the pursuit of equitable, inclusive, and just healthy societies, and on engaging researchers, clinicians, policymakers, and communities around shared interests in the attainment of a healthier and more just world. Its primary teaching commitment is to College of Human Medicine medical students at MSU, however, the Center also teaches graduate students, medical residents, and undergraduates.

The Center works closely with the Bioethics, Humanities and Society program (BHS) in Lyman Briggs College. Besides an undergraduate specialization in Health and Humanities, BHS regularly runs an overseas study program on health care policy and health care justice from a comparative perspective, based in London; concentration students may enroll in this course for doctoral credit.


Dr. Robyn Bluhm is an Associate Professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Philosophy and Lyman Briggs College. Her research examines philosophical issues in neuroscience and medicine, with a particular focus on the relationship between ethical and epistemological questions in these areas. She has written extensively on the philosophy of evidence-based practice and on the use of functional neuroimaging in psychiatry. She is a co-editor of the International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics.

Dr. Megan Dean is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Michigan State University. She works in Feminist Philosophy, Bioethics, and Science and Values, as well as 20th-century European Philosophy, especially Foucault and Phenomenology. Her current research is in the area of food ethics. While most food ethics concentrates on the impact of food production and consumption on human and non-human others, the environment, and health, Dean’s work highlights the importance of the activity of eating itself. Her work has appeared in journals including Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, Journal of Medical Ethics, and the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry.

Dr. Leonard Fleck, Professor, Ph.D., St. Louis University (Medical Ethics, Health Policy), has published over 160 articles and book chapters on a broad range of topics in health care ethics, especially issues related to health care justice, health care rationing, and health care policy. More recently he has published a number of articles on ethical issues related to emerging genetic technologies, in connection with his role as co-principal investigator for two three-year NIH ELSI grants. These grants explored the role of community dialogue (rational democratic deliberation) in addressing controversial issues of ethics and policy related to genetics and reproductive decision-making. He is the author of Just Caring: Health Care Rationing and Democratic Deliberation (Oxford University Press, 2009). He is a co-editor of the volume Fair Resource Allocation and Rationing at the Bedside (Oxford University Press, 2015). He has completed in 2021 another manuscript for Oxford University Press with expected publication in mid-2022 under the title Distributive Justice and Precision Medicine: Wicked Problems for Democratic Deliberation. He is completing another manuscript for Cambridge University Press with the working title The Liberalism Problem: Public Reason and Health Care Justice. Professor Fleck is a Hastings Center Fellow as well as a Fellow of the Brocher Foundation in Geneva Switzerland. He has presented at numerous national and international conferences. He is currently (2018-2023) serving as a consultant to a cancer biomarker project at the University of Bergen in Norway funded by a grant from the Norwegian government. He is past President of the Medical Ethics Resource Network of Michigan and served for three years as Chair of the Philosophy and Medicine Committee of the American Philosophical Association.

Dr. Fred Gifford, Professor, Ph.D., Pittsburgh.  His research and teaching is in philosophy of biology and medicine, and in medical ethics, global health ethics and ethics and development. He has published articles on philosophy of biology, causation, and medical ethics. He has developed and teaches an online course in Global Health Ethics for the online Master’s program in Global Health at MSU’s Institute for Global Heath. He has also served as a member of the University’s review board on research on human subjects.

Dr. Sean A. Valles is a philosopher of health specializing in the ethical and evidentiary complexities of how social contexts—everything from one’s local food options to the presence or absence of exposure to violent policing practices—combine to create patterns of inequitable health disparities. His work includes studying the challenges of responsibly using race and ethnicity concepts in monitoring health disparities, scrutinizing the rhetoric of the COVID-19 pandemic as an ‘unprecedented’ problem that could not be prepared for, and examining how biomedicine meshes with public health and population health. He is the author of the 2018 book, Philosophy of Population Health: Philosophy for a New Public Health Era. He is also co-editor (with Quill R. Kukla) of the Oxford University Press book series “Bioethics for Social Justice.”