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Looking for a bioethics course? Register for the Ethicslab Design Studio

Ethics Lab Flyer

Medical Error & Responsibility: An EthicsLab Design Studio
Ethics Lab Design Studio – 26046 – IDST 330 – 01
Fall 2013


Ann Pendleton-Jullian, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Design at Georgetown, Architect, and Former Director, Knowlton School of Architecture, The Ohio State University (

Auxilliary faculty:

Maggie Little, Director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and Assoc. Professor, Philosophy Department (
Travis Reid, Graduate Fellow, Kennedy Institute of Ethics
Jake Earl, Graduate Fellow, Kennedy Institute of Ethics
Kelly Heuer, Post-Doctorate Fellow, Kennedy Institute of Ethics


Currently Mondays 2:30-5:00; there will be a second meeting each week of small groups later in the week, with times worked out to accommodate schedules.


201 Healy — a new design space on campus under development for EthicsLab.


This design studio is offered as a pilot project in EthicsLab — an initiative by the Kennedy Institute of Ethics to make real-world progress on complex bioethical problems by supplementing traditional approaches with new methods from innovation and design labs. One of the key goals of EthicsLab is to develop a new kind of ethics class: one that asks undergraduates to learn by exploring a real-world, highly complex bioethics problem, and help to design new tools for making progress on it.

This semester’s project concerns issues around medical error and responsibility. Avoidable medical error is the 6th largest cause of death in the United States; when errors do happen, health care practitioners are rarely allowed to apologize out of fear for medical liability. The causes of the issue are complex and multi-dimensional: cultural issues of shame in medicine that reduce reporting; system designs that make it hard for even highly trained professionals to avoid committing serious injuries; business models that keep the industry from sharing the most basic of quality control metrics. Denied a key mechanism for moral reparation and repair, providers, not just patients, experience what has been called the “second trauma” of medical error.

Interdisciplinary in scope but with ethics as the foundational discipline, the course will pair traditional bioethics approaches with the rigorous but speculative methodological context associated with an architectural design studio. Students will learn from readings and hands-on active design work.

Sessions will be team-delivered, with head faculty Ann Pendleton-Jullian and an auxiliary team from the Kennedy Institute of Ethics. The course will be run interactively and flexibly, and will be structured in four parts: background information about the complex issue of medical error; exploration of current attempts to solve the problem, in order to frame the problem more fully and to identify what might be missing; then two design phases, the first individual and the second as teams, which we will curate and collate into a final set of four (or so) projects. We will engage a wide range of readings, speakers and resources on the issue.

This class will admit fourteen to sixteen undergraduate students. The only prerequisite is completion of one prior ethics class (Introduction to Ethics suffices). No prior design experience is necessary. Any skill based software and special skills needed will be incorporated into the studio teaching.

Interested students should send an email to Professor Maggie Little at