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Why Teaching of Bioethics Matters


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Slides from my presentation at the Spring Meeting of the Heads of University Biosciences Spring Meeting (May 2017) in which I look at some of the reasons for including bioethics in undergraduate bioscience programmes, and some practicalities regarding so doing.

Published in: Education

Why Teaching of Bioethics Matters

  1. 1. Why Teaching of Bioethics Matters HUBS Spring Meeting 2017 Dr Chris Willmott Dept of Molecular and Cell Biology University of Leicester
  2. 2. • Pace of discovery in bioscience • Distance “entry-level” knowledge to science frontier • All valuable content • Surely not room for bioethics? The Crowded Curriculum
  3. 3. Broader Conversation re Curriculum • A levels changing • Tension: content v skills • Guide own learning • Bioethics needs to be a core part of the final mix • Why?
  4. 4. Why we need to include bioethics in our undergraduate programmes QAA Subject Benchmark Statement for Biosciences Three editions: 2002, 2007, 2015 Ethical implications of discipline have been prominent in all three versions
  5. 5. • “Students should expect to be confronted by some of the scientific, moral and ethical questions raised by their study subject, to consider viewpoints other than their own, and to engage in critical assessment and intellectual argument. Graduates should be comfortable with dealing with uncertainty.” • “Recognise the moral and ethical issues of investigations and appreciate the need for ethical standards and professional codes of conduct.” QAA Benchmarking: Bioscience
  6. 6. All honours graduates MUST have “an appreciation of ethical issues and how they underpin professional integrity and standards” A typical honours graduate WILL be able to “construct reasoned arguments to support their position on the ethical and social impact of advances in the biosciences” QAA Benchmarking: Bioscience
  7. 7. 1. Explosion of new issues “Modern Science has placed in our hands capabilities that have aggravated long-standing ethical problems as well as introducing new quandaries.” Stanley Grenz (moral philosopher) Why do Benchmark statements include Bioethics?
  8. 8. Last two weeks: a snapshot
  9. 9. 2. Equipping students to explain the key issues to other people 1999 Eurobarometer survey: “Ordinary tomatoes do not contain genes while genetically-modified tomatoes do” 35% agreed with the statement 30% “do not know” Recent elections imply ongoing uncertainty Why do Benchmark statements include Bioethics?
  10. 10. 1. Explosion of new issues 2. Equipping students to explain the key issues to other people 3. Relevance to future research 4. It’s interesting Why do Benchmark statements include Bioethics?
  11. 11. • Core v optional? Benchmark implies former • Stand alone module v distributed? Ethics module &/or within other modules • Instrumentalist v Thematic? e.g. “working with animals” v “xenotransplantation” • Level of programme? Tensions in Bioethics education
  12. 12. • How much moral philosophy? - Does a bioscientist need to know about Kant, Bentham, etc? - Rights/Duties & Consequences - A framework for evaluation • How do we assess ethical thinking? - Temptation to assess other skills, e.g. presentation - Construct reasoned arguments? - Appropriate representation of more than one perspective? - Ethical Matrix? Tensions in Bioethics education
  13. 13. • What? Some aspects generic, others depend on cohort • Who? Bioscience staff or external? • How? Different approaches - Case studies Tensions in Bioethics education
  14. 14. Can consider issues in three categories: 1. Research integrity 2. Biomedical ethics 3. Environmental bioethics Ethical issues for Bioscientists
  15. 15. e.g. responsible use of humans & human material responsible use of animals responsible use of GMOs appropriate use of funding bias/suppression of results > “confirmation bias” fabrication, falsification, plagiarism (FFP) sabotage dangerous research: “dual use dilemma” Research integrity
  16. 16. e.g. genetics and genomics personalised medicine stem cell research gene therapy & gene editing cognitive enhancement neuroimaging xenotransplantation antibiotic usage funding of drugs in developing countries conduct of trials with vulnerable people Biomedical ethics
  17. 17. e.g. GM crops sustainable agriculture synthetic life biodiversity & conservation introduced/alien species climate change biofuels Environmental bioethics
  18. 18. • Real v Fictional? Real: News clips, News websites Fictional: Can “tidy up” &/or seed specific points Work best when based on real cases • Formats? - longer scenarios? - open ended v structured v standard tool? Case studies
  19. 19. “The most readable introductory bioethics book I have ever come across” Michael Reiss, Professor of Science Education, UCL Long-format scenarios Where Science and Ethics Meet: Dilemmas at the frontiers of medicine and biology Chris Willmott & Salvador Macip (Praeger, 2016)
  20. 20. You are nearing the end of the permitted time for you to complete the lab phase of your project. A postdoc has kindly stayed on to help you with your experiment long after everyone else has gone home. You are stressing out that you can’t get everything done in the remaining time. The supervisor has told you that if your project finishes as well as it has started, then there is a very real possibility that you might be the author on a research paper. You are wanting to go on to study for a PhD and you know this would really help your case. Structured #1: Saving time
  21. 21. Aware of your time constraints, the postdoc advises you to make sure you get all the “real” experiments done; if necessary you can fake the “controls”. He hasn’t told the Principal Investigator (your supervisor) this, but he confides in you that for the paper they recently had accepted for publication in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science he made up the control data. 1. What do you do now? - Do you accept the advice and fabricate your controls? - Do you inform the supervisor? - Do you contact the journal editor? - Do you do something different? Structured #1: Saving time
  22. 22. Working with a colleague in chemistry, you have developed some interesting compounds that you think may be of medicinal benefit. Specifically, you have conducted some in vitro experiments in which human cells appear to survive for longer when treated with the compounds than they would normally. You would now like to escalate this study to see whether the compounds have an anti-ageing effect on mice. Although there are strains of mice engineered to be prone to premature ageing, you intend to conduct the research using a standard laboratory strain. Structured #2: Anti-ageing drugs
  23. 23. 1. What are the ethical issues associated with this study? 2. Why use a mouse model for this research? 3. Which ethics committee(s) would need to be approached to grant approval for the research, and what paperwork would you need to produce for them to consider your proposal? Structured #2: Anti-ageing drugs
  24. 24. Carl is a twenty-one year old builder. He is engaged to Julie, and she has recently discovered that she is expecting their first child. In 2008, Carl’s maternal grandfather died from Huntington’s disease (HD), a late-onset degenerative disease of the nervous system. HD is inherited in a dominant fashion; if you do have HD, you have a 50% chance of passing it on to your children. Carl’s mum has decided not to take the test to find out if she got the faulty copy from her father, but now that he is expecting to be a father himself, Carl is keen to find out if there is any risk that he has passed on the condition. What are some of the issues at stake for Carl and Julie? What are the consequences of taking the test, or deciding not to? If you were Carl, what would you do? Case study: Carl and Julie
  25. 25. A principlist approach adapted from Beauchamp & Childress by Ben Mepham (Nottingham) Ethical Matrix “The matrix is designed to facilitate, but not determine, ethical decision-making by making explicit the relevant ethical concerns and providing a reasoned justification for any decision made ” (Mepham, 2008)
  26. 26. Any Questions? E-mail: Twitter: cjrw Slideshare: cjrw2 Delicious: chriswillmott Blogs: