Why the Topic of Bioethics in Science
A New Look at an Old Debate
by Carolyn Csongradi
Why The Topic Of Bioethics In Science Classes?
"...if we decide that we do not have time to stop and
think about right and wrong, then we do not have time to figure
out right from wrong which means that we do not have time to live
according to our model of right and wrong, which means, simply
put, we don't have time for lives of integrity..." Stephen
Technology and science are value laden:
- Our society is becoming increasingly technological in orientation.
In technology as opposed to science there are several factors
impacting the final product which an inventor needs to consider:
the inventor's motives and intention; embedded objectives such
as patent and market control; unintended consequences to the user.
The development and marketing of the home refrigerator provides
a good example.
In the late 1920's, two competing types of refrigerators were
available: electric compression and gas absorption. While the
gas absorption had no moving parts and was silent as a result,
e electric one had a motor which was being manufactured by companies
in the United States. Furthermore, motors use electricity and
this was advantageous for the utility companies. In the end, the
gas absorption refrigerator is found in Europe, having been squeezed
out of the market in the United States. Technology is value laden.
- With knowledge comes responsibility. The history of the human genome project predicts
we will determine the genetic causes of human disease long before
treatment is available, even though these diseases are fundamental
to current problems in society. "In short, in the vision
inspired by the success of molecular biologists, 'nature' became
newly malleable, perhaps infinitely so; certainly it was vastly
more malleable than anyone had ever imagined 'nurture' to be."
Some estimates are as long as fifty years between treatment or
cure options and elucidation of the causes. The economic costs to
individuals and society is enormous for some diseases and the
pressure to somehow reduce the burden is rapidly increasing.
- The sense that objective insight is gained through detachment
is a hallmark of the scientific process. However, the role of
objectivity needs to be balanced by the realization that without
our ability to walk-in-the-shoes of another, we may exist in a
world of self-centered ignorance, depending largely on rationalization
to make decisions which require a measure of compassion.
- Both factual knowledge and values are relative to where we
are in the historical record. Over the course of a thousand or
more years, scientific discoveries have been dismissed when they
were deemed inconsistent with current thinking. With time, those
disputed findings have been accepted as "truth" and
changed the theoretical course of scientific history.
What we have decided to value has also changed as we fa
ce a period
in which our survival as a species may be determined by decisions
this generation will make concerning managing environmental problems.(39)
The time is right:
- Adolescents are passionately interested in moral questions
suggesting this may be a critical time for moral education.(12)
Knowledge arises when the mind interacts with content; moral knowledge
develops as an evolving process between the self and moral principles
around real-life issues. The question is what role schools and
teachers should play in the acquisition of this knowledge.
- Despite his critics, Kohlberg's theory continues to be the
focus of much research on adolescents and moral thinking. Programs
based on his theory present hypothetical moral dilemmas and the
educator facilitates discussion by asking questions and challenging
statements rather than presenting solutions. Such programs have
resulted in advances in moral reasoning using Kohlberg's six stages
- In response to a curriculum which stimulated moral thinking
in adolescents, students report becoming more sensitive, more
reflective and less hasty in their judgments.(3) They are more aware
of others' problems and of the consequences of their own actions
or inaction. It has also been shown on tests of knowledge that
acquisition and retention of discrete bits of information are
facilitated in classrooms where teachers encourage discussion
of controversial issues and encourage students to express their
- Despite the concern that bioethical issues require complex
critical thinking skills, using stage theories such as Piaget's
which are based on brain matura
tion as a reason to lessen the
cognitive challenges for early adolescents is not supported
by the best available data. In fact most evidence suggests
that such delays may be harmful.(24)
- "Everything we do, then, as teachers, has moral overtones.
Through dialogue, modeling, the provisions of practice, and the
attribution of best motive, the one-caring as teacher nurture
the ethical ideal. She cannot nurture the student intellectually
without regard for the ethical ideal..." Nel Noddings(32)
Teaching Moral Problem Solving Continued: