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Throughout the semester we have been and will continue learning about a variety of biological and biomedical breakthroughs and discoveries. In most cases, these topics were examined from a scientific perspective only. In a few cases you have been asked to consider economic impacts. Only rarely have we addressed ethical and social implications; the human genome project is the one exception.
However, science does not operate in a vacuum; its impact upon us and society overall must be considered from a number of viewpoints.
Bioethics is one such vantage point. This discipline looks at moral and ethical issues in medicine and other biological fields. It is an important topic, and also a timely one – see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4711796.stm . I find it difficult to teach in a large lecture, however, so we are examining this topic in lab, where discussion in a smaller group is possible.
BEFORE LAB: please read http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4396833.stm, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/8515917.stm, http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/02/04/baby.dna.government/index.html?hpt=C2 and http://www.answers.com/topic/bioethics; for help with question 2 below, read http://abcnews.go.com/Health/GadgetGuide/Story?id=4455227&page=1
Another useful reference is the NIH’s Bioethics Resources page: http://bioethics.od.nih.gov/. You should also look through: http://ehrweb.aaas.org/ehr/books/contents.html. This booklet came out of the research and funding set aside for ELSI, and I think it is provocative — we as a society have some very important decisions to make. Do not try to read the whole thing; focus on a few of the scenarios/case studies and the types of questions that arise in each of these situations.
IN LAB: we are going to watch the movie “Gattaca” and use this as a springboard for a discussion about bioethics. As you are watching the movie, jot notes &/or keep in mind the following:
This is a group effort. Please get with your group and discuss the movie via social media and complete this assignment.
1. What bioethical issues can you identify in the movie?
2. Is our current technology even close to what is depicted in the movie? From what you have learned in lecture, is it likely to be developed soon — or not at all?
3. Would you want to live in a world like that? Why or why not?
4. Choose a subset of these issues. What is your position on that or those particular issues? Can you back it with a sound argument? Is it a “gut” reaction? What would you want to do/know to make an informed decision?
After the movie, the class will start a discussion. If you have specific questions on what is or is not possible, this is the time to ask. The lab section will then break into small groups to continue discussing these issues. Each group will then have an opportunity to think about the issues and discussion and compile this in a brief (3 pages) essay/write-up. It will be due the next lab.