A PROCESS: FRAMEWORK FOR TEACHING BIOETHICS
"BIOSHOCK" might just be the word to describe the advances being made by science and technology. Transgenic animals, gene therapy, new prenatal and reproductive strategies, fetal tissue research, transplants, and more may cause biology teachers to begin changing the view of life and nature. This biotechnology may expand our knowledge, even stretch it, and give us new powers and freedoms, but at the same time it brings us new responsibilities.
What does all of the above have to do with education, the classroom, and teaching? Simply, in addition to biological knowledge and applications, teachers will need to present bioethics: "BIO" meaning life and "ETHICS" meaning the development of principles, rules, and ideals that give standards of good and bad, right and wrong.
The outcome will allow students to answer, "what should I do?" or "what ought I to do?", in terms of biotechnology and to do it with reason and to accept the answers they generate. A biological/bioethical student who can recognize ethical issues, who has moral imagination, who uses analytical skills, and who develops a sense of moral obligation and responsibility is a student who is ready for the challenges of biotechnology of the 90's and beyond. Can a biology teacher do this? Certainly.
BASIC STEPS IN THE PROCESS OF TEACHING BIOETHICS
The seven steps in conducting bioethical decision making in the class-room are researched, based and drawn by experience from individuals who deal with bioethics and the skill of decision making.
A PROCESS: TEACHING BIOETHICS
1. Identification and Presentation
This step allows the student to determine if there is an ethical problem and what has to be decided by whom and what ethical problem(s) this decision seems to raise. The dilemma may be teacher directed from real issues or situations or from a case study. The dilemma may be read to the class as a whole , or else each student can read it for himself/herself. Identification is the first "cut". The presentation that follows will refine and revise the dilemma as the teacher leads the student to a better understanding of the situation and to exploring the ethical values and concepts that explain why the dilemma is a dilemma. Questions that might help the identification and presentation:
2. Background Information
This step assesses factual information for the student who becomes the decision maker. This information base provides an understanding of the issue and the substantive content to develop the process in a bioethical situation. The background also serves to bridge the gap between the real world and the hypothetical dilemma that is simulated from a case study, a real situation or event. Thus the dilemma is real and not just a story. It reflects real societal concerns, values, and moral conflicts that arise from biotechnological activities.
3. Individual Value Clarification
This step establishes the personal values that seem relevant to the situation and allows the student to prize and promote personal patterns, "what kind of picture do I get of myself?" This step exposes one's self-concept, self-acceptance, self-esteem that lead to the confidence needed to make an ethical decision. "What ought I to do in light of who I say I am?"
4. Small Group Discussion
This step allows individuals to speak out in a small non-threatening atmosphere where conversation is between student and student. The infor-mality of the group allows for entertaining unique or unusual ideas that would not be expressed in a large group. Small group also places more responsibility on each person to add to the group's activity. An underlying motive for this step is to expose the student to different values and opinions on the same issue. This creates a state of disequilibrium (shift in mental framework) that causes the individual to begin rethinking and restructuring thought, a basic premise of ethical decision making. A scribe should be selected to write down each person's comments and values. Things to be discussed: a statement about the dilemma, values to support statement, difficulties with the dilemma, any additional information that may have bearing on the dilemma. After each has expressed him/herself, proceed with group discussion that includes: why each group member supports their perspective, can they come up with alternative positions, "pros and cons" to each person's perspective? Now the group needs to come together with solutions or alternatives that they all can agree upon. They need a group consensus for each of the following: Did we identify the ethical problem that is important in the dilemma? Did we consider the factual information in our decision? Did we identify the " participants" in the decision? Did we identify the values at stake in the decision? Did we identify the options available in the decision? The scribe will write a response for each of the above on a piece of paper. This will be used in the class discussion.
5. Class Discussion
This step allows the entire class to reconvene and to hear the solutions or alternatives made by the various groups. Discussion is generated as group reports are examined by the whole class. The discussion gives the opportunity for opposing views or to ask questions or to challenge the views, and to evaluate the effects and consequences of decisions. For some students it will be disequilibrium time again, while others will have support time. The key to the success in this discussion depends on "you the teacher". Draw on your strengths of being a biology teacher-maturity of judgement, logical reasoning, and mastery of your content matter. YOU CAN DO THIS. Open your students' minds to unfamiliar ideas and show them connections between decisions, actions, and consequences for self, for others, and for society as a whole. These questions must be addressed in the class discussion:
If the class, with consensus, can answer these questions with a yes, then the solution is acceptable; if no, go back and reach accord.
This step ends with a firm agreed-upon conclusion(s) or with at least the feeling that something has been learned, understanding has improved, ideas have been clarified and students have been led to think. Be sure to review the process with the students. Metacognition (thinking about thinking) is just as important.
Run through the steps of the process and ask for clarification.
7. Extension Or Implementation
This step is optional. You may wish to extend or elaborate the dilemma or cause individuals to become active by letter writing, writing an editorial, campaigning, picketing, etc.
Barry Beyer. "Conducting moral discussions in the classroom." Social Education, April, 1976, 195-292.
Lawrence Kohlberg. "Moral stages and moralization: the cognitive- developmental approach." In Thomas Lickona (Ed.) Moral Development And Behavior: Theory, Research, And Social Issues. New York: Holt, Rinehardt and Winston, 1976.
Howard B. Radest, Can We Teach Ethics? New York: Praeger Publishers, 1989
"The Teaching of Ethics in Higher Education: A Report by the Hastings Center." Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.: The Hastings Center, 1980.