Exploring Bioethics
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National Institutes of Health
Department of Bioethics

Exploring Bioethics

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Teacher's Guide


Exploring Bioethics is the most recent addition to the NIH Curriculum Supplement Series. This series brings the latest medical science and research discoveries from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) into the high school classroom. NIH plays a vital role in the health of all Americans and seeks to foster interest in research, science, and medicine-related careers for future generations. The NIH Office of Science Education (OSE) is dedicated to promoting science education and scientific literacy.

Exploring Bioethics gives students an opportunity to grapple with some of the most challenging and engaging ethical issues our society is facing as a consequence of advances in the life sciences. We designed Exploring Bioethics to complement existing high school biology curricula and to align with the National Science Education Standards. High school science teachers, bioethicists, education specialists, scientists, representatives from the Department of Bioethics in the NIH Clinical Center, and curriculum-design experts from Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), created it over three years. The collaborative development process included geographically dispersed field tests by teachers and students.

The structure of these modules enables teachers to facilitate learning and stimulate ethical inquiry. Real-life cases introduce a core set of ethical considerations that are important for analyzing ethical issues in medicine and the life sciences. Design elements emphasize key bioethical concepts and analytic methods, cutting-edge science content, real-world scenarios, and built-in assessment tools. Activities promote active and collaborative learning to help students develop their ethical-reasoning and critical-thinking skills.

Each of our curriculum supplements comes with a complete set of printed materials for teachers, including extensive background and resource information, detailed lesson plans, and masters for student worksheets. The Web site accompanying Exploring Bioethics includes additional material such as sample answer keys, detailed background information, additional lesson extensions, updates, and corrections (as needed). The supplements are freely distributed to educators across the United States upon request. They may be copied for classroom use but may not be sold.

We welcome your feedback. For a complete list of curriculum supplements and ordering information, or to submit feedback, visit http://science.education.nih.gov or write to

Curriculum Supplement Series
Office of Science Education
National Institutes of Health
6100 Executive Blvd, Suite 3E01
Bethesda, MD 20892-7520

We appreciate the valuable contributions from the talented staff at EDC. We are also grateful to the NIH ethicists, advisors, and all the other participating professionals for their work and dedication. Finally, we thank the teachers and students who participated in field tests to ensure that these lessons are both engaging and effective.

I hope you find our series a valuable addition to your classroom and wish you a productive school year.

Bruce A. Fuchs, Ph.D.
Office of Science Education
National Institutes of Health


Exploring Bioethics supports high school biology teachers in raising and addressing bioethical issues with their students and engages students in rigorous thinking and discussions. By providing conceptual guidelines that promote careful thinking about difficult cases, it stresses the importance of presenting thoughtful and relevant reasons for considered positions on ethical issues.

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Module 1, Bioethics Concepts and Skills, lays the groundwork for subsequent modules by emphasizing the importance of giving reasons for ethical choices. Students examine two cases about the use of enhancements in sports that raise ethical questions. In the process, they acquire strategies for analyzing and discussing bioethical cases more generally. They develop habits of mind that include asking the following four key questions to clarify the issues involved in making an ethical decision:

The last key question focuses students on a set of core ethical considerations that highlight the important ethical aspects of any case. Exploring Bioethics draws on three widely recognized ethical considerations:

Although this supplement focuses on these three ethical considerations, others may be relevant to a particular case. For example, Module 1 encourages students to also think about authenticity in sports, and Module 6 adds the ethical consideration of stewardship (or responsibility toward other species).

Modules 2 through 6 highlight cases that represent key topics in bioethics. These modules give students the chance to apply their understanding of the four key questions and ethical considerations to a wide variety of ethical issues in the life sciences. Teachers can use each module as a stand-alone, three-day unit of instruction or as part of another unit.

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The intent of Exploring Bioethics is not to change opinions or perspectives, but rather to strengthen students’ ability to consider, explain, and offer a reasoned defense of their points of view. Within the modules, there is a special emphasis on the importance of providing relevant reasons for a position. A strong reason, what bioethicists often call a strong justification, is one that addresses the four key questions and takes the core ethical considerations into account. This sets ethical analysis apart from “gut reactions.” The activity of assessing different reasons, considering counterarguments, and providing a strong justification for a particular position is a cornerstone of
the modules.

All the modules in Exploring Bioethics make explicit links between the concepts and skills used in bioethical analysis and the scientific content taught to students, thereby motivating students to use and apply scientific concepts. The modules align well with important topics taught in introductory biology courses, such as genetics, immunology, organ systems, scientific reasoning, and experimental design. Many of the questions considered are practical issues that students are likely to face in their lives. A major goal of these modules is to enable students to be more responsible and thoughtful decision makers in a world of ever-increasing complexity.

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