Classrooms of the 21st Century
Teaching & Learning

Teaching Bioethics

By Genevieve M. Nelson

Bioethics is the study of questions relating to the appropriate use of new technologies. For example, the Human Genome Project has identified a huge number of disease-causing genes. Should parents be permitted to use amniocentesis to screen embryos for specific conditions? Are there some conditions for which prenatal screening is appropriate and others for which it is not?

Bioethics is appropriate for high school students for several reasons. First, it helps them see the relevance of biology in their lives. Bioethics can make topics, such as fetal tissue transplantation, which feel "far away" to many adolescents immediate and compelling. A student who believes he or she will never be a candidate for fetal tissue transplantation may be moved by a case study involving a grandparent afflicted by Parkinson's Disease who may be helped by a fetal tissue graft. Through exploring situations like this, students realize that biology and its associated technologies touch everyone, not just people in the medical profession. Furthermore, the implications of these ethical questions for the development of public policy and legislation help students understand that in order to be a responsible citizen in a democracy, one must be well informed about both scientific fact and theory, as well as a thoughtful decision maker.

There are no simple answers to ethical dilemmas. Students must learn to struggle with a variety of options and to think critically about which one leads to the greatest good. Exploring compelling dilemmas provides powerful motivation to understand the science that underlies the dilemma.

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