Bioethics Project Lesson Plan: Bioethics in the News

By Ms. Maura Crowe, US and MS Science

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

During the winter trimester, after students in the Bioethics Project course have chosen their specific research topic, they are each given the opportunity to lead a class through a lesson called, “Bioethics in the News.” There are two main goals of this activity: 1) to help each student to learn more about a particular facet of their research, and 2) to help each student, as the facilitator, practice the skills needed to carry a discussion for approximately thirty minutes. Through this activity, we all benefit, as a lively discussion ensues, allowing us to learn from each other and learn more about the topic at hand. 

To begin, students must search for a submit a recent news article (or video) for approval at least three days prior to facilitation day. Students have the opportunity to be strategic about the choice of their article, selecting one that can push their research further and/or provide an opportunity for feedback. After their article is approved, the facilitator is asked to create a discussion guide with important facts, values, issues, and prompts that identify key themes in the class reading and questions. The article is then posted for all to read prior to class.

On the day of the discussion, the facilitator typically begins with summarizing the article and addressing factual questions about their topic. They then have the freedom to consider a variety of question formats to elicit responses from their classmates, with the goal of having all students participate. At times, the skill of being able to rephrase a question must be applied, particularly if it is not eliciting the response that was expected. We emphasize to the students that a good facilitated discussion looks and feels natural, rather than a strict progression through a series of questions. In this way, the hope is that students lead a conversation that explores the complex nature and nuances of their chosen research topic.     

This year alone we have explored a variety of topics, including but not limited to cryonics, effective plastic waste management, the impact of COVID vaccinations on organ transplantation eligibility, protests over abortion laws in Poland, risks and benefits of gain of function research, the ethicality of prenatal screening for sex determination, and a discussion of whether immortality is desirable. Following the discussion, a transcript of the conversation is made available to the student, giving them new possible directions and potential areas to expand their research during this year-long project. 

Here are some student reflections on “Bioethics in the News”:

“I feel that my BIN did give me the skills necessary to facilitate a conversation which was very helpful at the Bioethics Symposium… as a class we all really enjoyed hearing all of the new topics and having a conversation”

“The BIN discussions were helpful for me in getting new perspectives on my topic, especially when trying to write my paper. I also enjoyed being a participant because I was able to learn more about my classmates’ projects, as well as give my own opinions on the ethical questions they were trying to answer.”