BIOETHICS - AN INTRODUCTION
Michael Burnham and Rod Mitchell
ObjectivesThe list of global, national and local environmental and medical bioethical dilemmas is real and endless, a final ending being Bioethical decisions which will impact us all with possibly devastating results. As a society, a nation, a world community, we have simply two choices: to be proactive or reactive in responding to these potentially unavoidable results. And therein we as educators have a challenge. As Van Potter said in reference to world survival, "To future generations, ignorance, superstition and illiteracy are the greatest barriers to a hopeful future for our descendants." (Potter, 1988). When 52 percent of American teenagers believe in astrology and, as reported in The American Biology Teacher, 34 percent of biology teachers polled thought psychic powers could be used to read peoples' thoughts, 29 percent felt we could communicate with the dead, and 22 percent believed in ghosts, we clearly have work to do. (Gallop Poll, 1984, ABT Editorial, May, 1989).
Over the past 15 years scientists and educators have discussed teaching bioethics or values in conjunction with biology. (Vollrath, 1990, Bronowski, 1990, Longino, l990, Musschenga, 1985). The major scientific and science educational organizations have become increasingly aware of the necessity to dispel the notion that there is a dichotomy between values and biology and to promote a better understanding of their integration. (AAAS, l989; NABT 1982; BSCS,1982; Hastings Institute, 1980; Woodrow Wilson Foundation, l991). It is the intention of this paper to encourage the development of bioethical curricula, even within a demanding teaching load. Bioethics is not only an essen-tial part of the teaching of biology at the secondary level, but it is also a unique opportunity to relate the subject content more closely to students' lives while examining the priorities which affect the long term survival of the planet. It presents the possibility to look again at what we teach and perhaps make a shift in emphasis which will bring about the marriage of biology and ethics. We also hope to present a teaching model which might bring about this union.
Reasons For Teaching Bioethics:There are several reasons for making this shift to the integration of tradional biology with values or ethics. Perhaps the most obvious to students is the fact that many of the value-rich issues in their lives are related to content in biology, and that much of traditional biology involves value-laden topics. Such topics as environmental degradation, species diversity, fetal tissue transfer, or the new reproductive strategies are only a few of the many which could be mentioned. In many cases the students are already aware of the importance of these topics in their lives. These topics also can serve as a vehicle to get students involved in issues of which they had little previous understanding or awareness.
Today, many scientists and science teachers question the long standing belief that the "content" of science is void of presuppositions, personal or societal values, and subjective interpretation. Yet, even recently, this empirical, "objective," value-free or at least value-neutral nature of science and its processes was advocated. (Hafele 1976, U.S. Office of Technology Assessment 1977, Burnham 1979, Starr & Whipple 1980, et al). However, and especially with the advent of the "New Biology," these assertions overlook the unavoidable presence of value-based science. (Brown 1992, Bronowski 1990, Carpenter 1972, Musschenga 1985, Edge 1986, et al). Our "facts" are not purely objective entities but rather, and importantly, colored by our values. Science and how it is used by its very nature is laden with constitutive and contextual values; it is endemic to theoretical and applied science � to science in the classroom! (Brown 1992, Shrader-Frenchette 1991, Edge 1986). To illustrate: How do scientists determine procedures when deciding when evidence is sufficient to accept or reject a hypothesis? Why do we use the 5% level to reject the null hypothesis (why not 1, 6, 8 or 10 percent)? Why do we use three standard deviations to affirm a positive ELISA protein assay? In risk assessment, how do we objectively determine acceptable risk? When is testing enough when determining the safety of a new drug? Looking internationally, objective values of occupational standards for air pollutants are debatable. Levels of benzene exposure measured in mg/cu. meter of air, for example, differ country to country: Italy 20 mg, USA 30 mg, Germany 50 mg, Japan 80 mg. (Kasperson, 1991). Even nationally, OSHA, EPA, and NRC all have different environmental and occupational standards for numerous hazardous substances (Derr et al. 1981). A 1983 British study to correlate lead emissions to public health found no significant quantitative connection; however, the scientific commission's recommen-dation was to phase out lead based gasoline! (Mayo, 1991). In short, the content of science - its new information and findings - are NOT free of the values that encompass them!
In biology, we are faced with an information explosion which is almost incomprehensible. Mager states that the amount of information available in biology doubles every three and a half years. (Platt, l992). The idea that we can somehow endow our students with all that there is to know in biology has long been recognized as a no win strategy. This recognition was the father of a revolution in secondary science curricula which began in the mid 1960's with the advent of Biological Sciences Curriculum Study and the companion curricula reforms in the other sciences. These curriculum reforms recognized the importance of process and the strategies for collection, compilation and interpretation of data. Today, the realization is that critical thinking skills of ethical analysis are the same as those emphasized in this process-oriented method of teaching science. In fact, the integration of ethical decision making into biology curricula only reinforces the critical thinking procedures which are a foundation of the process-oriented teaching reforms of the l960's. We would like to suggest that the content/process approach of the l960's should now make the transition to a content/process/ values approach in the l990's.
Unlike puberty and other physical developmental stages which our students seem to transcend without our help, values as a component of decis-ion making must be taught and schools are one of the appropriate places for this education to take place. It is not the intention of the biology class to usurp the domain of the family, church or other institutions. Some might be wary of values orientation, saying school is not the place to promote values. We disagree and would like to make the distinction between values and doc-trine. There is no place for doctrine, at least in the public schools. However, schools already promote the basic values of nonmalfeasance, benevolence, fairness and truthfulness. These are universal values which structure the rules and behaviors students are expected to obey while they are at school.
What is Bioethics?In tandem, the investigations of biology, scientific technology, and ethical issues combine to form a new science called "bioethics." Although many definitions are possible for this multidisciplinary science, we have chosen to use Van Potter's definition. In 1971, he coined the term "bioethics" saying that it is "Biology combined with diverse humanistic knowledge forging a science that sets a system of medical and environmental priorities for acceptable survival."
Foremost, the definition is contextual in the here-and-now. It establishes the premise that we operate through "humanistic knowledge" - the rejection of superstition; where human-kind is in control of its own destiny; that our actions are based in moral principles and ethical thinking. (Kieffer, 1992). It provides a "system" approach (scientific methodology) to medical and environmental priorities. Also, it gives us an over-arching context of survival. But what is "acceptable" survival? As stated in his 1988 book Global Bio-ethics, Van Potter points out that survival without qualification is meaning-less. He offers five categories of survival: mere survival, miserable survival, ideal survival, irresponsible survival, and acceptable survival. (pg. 43-53). Of the latter, acceptable survival refers to a sustainable society within a healthy ecosystem.
Going further and to summarize, it is our contention and from an educational perspective, that this view of bioethics is eminently useful in promoting critical thinking at many levels. It allows for greater accessibility to the content through connectivity rather than stand-alone units. It engages the content and process of real life situations (present and future) where decisions have real consequences, seldom with risk-free outcomes. Finally, it promotes a focusing framework that places the biology that we teach in a more fully integrated form with the issues that student quickly relate to.
The ModelTo bring about a bioethical approach to teaching and to realize the opportunities it presents, we are suggesting that a paradigm shift is necessary in how we teach children. This shift involves a revised model or a new sequence of components that should be used to help students engage biology, Figure 1. We would like first to describe the model's components and then suggest its rationale and value to students.
Pitfalls and OpportunitiesThere are some common pitfalls which educators experience when incor-porating values into their biology course, many of which can defeat the pur-pose of what we define as a bioethical approach. We would like to address a few below.
Opportunities in Teaching BioethicsIn deciding to teach biology from a platform of content/process/values, we are presented with an important opportunity to affect change within our students. This opportunity has immediate and long term components. First is the possibility of making clear connections between content/process in the daily lives of our students. Too, it asks students to consider critically all sides of a bioethical issue and to look for the best possible solutions. In the long term, the hope is to move students toward working and promoting acceptable survival of their planet.
Specifically, we offer the following list of benefits, in no particular order, to a teaching methodology using this approach:
ReferencesAAAS. 1981. "Whistleblowing in Biomedical Research." Supt. of Documents, U. S. Government Printing Office.
Brinckerhoff, R. 1992. One-Minute Reading. Issues in Science, Technology and Society.
Bronowski, J. 1990. Science and human values. Harper Colophon Press.
Brown, L. 1992. State of the World. Worldwatch Institute report in progress. W. W. Norton and Co.
BSCS. 1982. "Human Genetics."
Burnham, J. 1979. "Panel: Use of Risk Assessment." in In Symposium/ Workshop...Risk Assessment and Governmental Decision Making. Mitre Corporation
Callicott, J.B. l989. In Defense of the Land Ethic. State University of New York Press.
Carpenter, R. A. 1972. Technology Assessment: Understanding the Social Consequences of Technological Applications. Praeger Publications.
Derr, P. 1981. "Worker/Public Protection: The Double Standard." Environment 23 (Sept)
Edge. D. 1986. "Dominant Scientific Methodological Views: Alternatives and Their Implications." in Science Education and Ethical Values. Georgetown University Press.
Haffele, W. 1976. "Benefit-Risk Tradeoffs in Nuclear Power Generation." in Energy and the Environment. Pergamon Press.
Hastings Institute. 1980. Ethical Teaching in Higher Education - edited by Daniel Callahan and Sissela Bok. Plenum Publishing Customer Service, New York.
Hull, R.T. 1990. Ethical Issues in the New Reproductive Technologies. Wadsworth.
Kasperson, R and J. 1991. "Hidden Hazards." in Acceptable Evidence. Oxford University Press.
Kieffer, G. 1992. Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation seminar.
Leopold, A. 1949. A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press.
Longino, H. 1990. Science and Social Knowledge. Princeton University Press.
Mayo, D. 1991. Acceptable Evidence: Science and Values in Risk Management. Oxford University Press.
Muscchenga, B. 1985. Science Education and Social Values. Georgetown University Press.
NABT. 1982. McInerney, J. D., F. M. Hickman and J. B. Kahle. "Why Science and Values in the Classroom?" in Directions in Biology Teaching. NABT.
Platt, J. 1992. Science Teachers in Education workshop. University of Denver.
Potter, V.R. 1988. Global Ecology. Michigan State University Press.
Shrader-Frenchette, K. S. 1991. "Reductionist Approach" in Acceptable Evidence. Oxford University Press.
Starr C. and Whipple, C. 1980. "Risks of Risk Decisions." Science 208
U. S. Office of Technology Assessment 1977.
Wilson, E. O. 1086. Biodiversity. National Academy Press.