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The ethics behind medical decisions

Join the debate on today’s medical ethics agenda

Making decisions in healthcare presents dilemmas every day. Recent evolutions in society have seen a cultural shift towards respecting the individual’s autonomy to make their own choices and manage their own health. 

This responsibility impacts both the doctor-patient relationship and the role of health insurers. Other issues include knowledge of the genetic basis of diseases, pre-implantation diagnosis and IVF, the use of plastic surgery for aesthetic enhancement, and the ageing population. This is a fascinating area of research that’s only growing more important in today’s society.

This two-year Master’s programme is a unique collaboration between the Faculty of Philosophy at VU Amsterdam and the Department of Medical Humanities at VU Medical Centre. It’s also one of the only such programmes with a focus on mental health and neuroscience. As a graduate with two Master’s degrees – one in Philosophy, Bioethics and Health, and one in your original discipline – you’ll be in great demand by many healthcare organisations.

A highly interdisciplinary, practical and small-scale programme

The programme is highly interdisciplinary, consisting of introductory philosophy courses, courses in bioethics, and health-related courses that are part of your other Master’s programme. You’ll also do practical training – involving a once-in-a-lifetime study trip to the University of Oxford in the UK plus an internship at a hospital, healthcare institute or other organisation.

This is a small-scale programme, meaning you’ll work a lot in small groups and receive plenty of attention from the teaching staff. Many of the teachers work in the field themselves, giving you the opportunity to take advantage of their first-hand experience. But you’ll also benefit from working with students and teachers whose backgrounds are in different disciplines. All students following a Philosophy specialisation take the core introductory philosophy courses, which means you’ll come into contact with people specialising in neuroscience or law as well.

The start date of this programme is September 1st.

Facts and figures

Courses overview

Year 1

In your first year, you’ll take five courses relating to your other Master’s, four introductory philosophy courses, and one course specifically about bioethics.

As well as studying a basic history of philosophy, from ancient times to modern day, you’ll learn about normative ethics – asking yourself how human beings can co-exist when we subscribe to different ethical theories, such as virtue ethics, utilitarianism, Kantian ethics and so on. You’ll also learn about the scientific method, finding out what makes knowledge scientific knowledge, and asking whether objective knowledge is possible.

In the Bioethics, Technology and Law course, you’ll get to grips with the interface between these three areas. You’ll be confronted with cutting-edge developments in biomedicine, like “designer babies”, asking yourself the extent to which parents should be able to determine the characteristics of their child from both an ethical and a legal perspective. 


  • Bioethics, Technology and Law
  • Philosophy of Science: Disciplines and Themes
  • Normative Ethics
  • Political and Social Philosophy
  • History of Philosophy

You will find the study programme in our studyguide.

Year 2

Your second year will cover bioethics in more detail, with four courses especially tailored to bioethics students.
In Philosophy of Mind, Life and Death, you’ll look at end-of-life issues from the perspective of the doctor-patient relationship.
In the Moral Reasoning in Healthcare course, you’ll look at the processes used by medical teams to make highly complex ethical decisions on the hospital floor. You’ll use real-life case studies and work as a team.

As part of the Ethics of Medical Research course, you’ll get the chance to sit in on a Medical Ethical Committee meeting.
In Ethics, Public Policy and Politics, you’ll understand how politics and cultural values play into medical decisions in different contexts.

Your practical training is a highlight of the second year of the programme, giving you the opportunity to visit the University of Oxford during the five-day “Winter School”. You’ll also take a six-week internship, giving you insights into how ethical issues are dealt with in the real world.

Finally, you’ll write your Master’s thesis, with free rein to choose a topic within the vast domain of bioethics. Past theses have been written on topics like the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare, effects of deep brain stimulation on a patient’s identity, and end-of-life decision-making.


  • Master Thesis (2 year program)
  • Ethics of Medical Research
  • Moral Reasoning in Health Care
  • Philosophical Text Reading
  • Philosophy of Mind, Life and Death
  • Practical Training Philosophy, Bioethics and Health
  • Ethics, Public Policy, and Politics

You will find the study programme in our studyguide.

Nathalie Notermans

Nathalie Notermans

"The programme is inspiring and interesting! The lecturers are highly motivated. They all work as either doctor or in medical ethics which keeps their lectures up to date and practical."

Winter School

The five-day Winter School at the University of Oxford, in the UK, takes the format of a symposium. In a series of sessions throughout the week, you’ll present an analysis and critical evaluation of selected papers written by Oxford scholars, after which you’ll engage in a group discussion of the subject with the author. Beforehand, you’ll thoroughly study all the papers that will be discussed in Oxford and prepare your own presentations and questions for the authors. This is a great opportunity to meet and learn from bioethicists with very different background and approaches.

(Note: travel expenses for the Winter School are covered by the students themselves, estimated at €250.)


After the Winter School, you’ll take a six-week internship in the field – this could be at a hospital (physical or mental), research centre, forensic institute, advisory body or government institute, to name just a few. Some of our students have even been offered jobs after their studies as a result of their internships.

Change your future with the Philosophy, Bioethics and Health programme

Change your future with the Philosophy, Bioethics and Health programme

Having completed the Philosophy, Bioethics and Health programme, you’ll be knowledgeable not only about ethical philosophy but also about health sciences, medicine, psychology or biomedical sciences – meaning you’ll be able to critically reflect on ethical issues in healthcare.

Your breadth and depth of bioethical knowledge will make you very attractive to potential employers, including academic institutions, hospitals, health boards and government departments.

Explore your future prospects

Want to know more?

For information about the programme:

The coordinators are prof. G. Meynen and dr. Suzanne Metselaar (vice-coordinator)

For questions please contact Rosa Wijnen via