NEWTON, MA | November 15, 2006
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a two-year contract to Education Development Center (EDC) to develop a curriculum in bioethics to be used in high school biology courses. The curriculum materials will be created as a supplement to biology textbooks and, when completed, will be made available free to schools across the country. The Office of Science Education and the Department of Clinical Bioethics at NIH awarded the contract.
EDC researchers will work with a team of ethicists, scientists and teachers to develop instructional materials on topics of social importance in the life sciences. These are likely to include such subjects as the nature of bioethics, clinical trials, vaccination, genetic enhancement and genetic screening. The goal of these materials is to have students begin to develop their thinking about ethics and to relate their learning in biology to real life issues.
“Students at this age are questioning and forming their own opinions on so many important topics,” said EDC’s Jackie Miller, a project director. “They may base their decisions on emotion or because someone else tells them how to respond. But we want to provide skills and practice in how to reach conclusions so kids will ask: ‘what are my reasons?’ and ‘how do I evaluate choices and make wise decisions?’” Miller said.
For example, students starting a unit on human physical enhancement might imagine they are on an Olympic committee of the future, deciding whether an athlete who has been enhanced to take in more oxygen, should compete. A unit on the nature of clinical trials might include a look at the polio vaccine trials in the 1950s, and questions about the ethics of using placebos when scientists might strongly suspect, but can’t yet prove, that a vaccine will work.
“Our pluralistic democracy requires informed citizens who can understand the issues and make wise judgments—both about their own behavior and about public policy,” said Mildred Solomon, EDC vice president and Associate Professor of Social Medicine and Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School. “We want to prepare students for the scientific, medical, ethical, and personal and public policy choices they will face as young adults in the 21st century and a big part of that will be learning how to reason about hard choices, and listen to people with divergent points of view,” Solomon said.
The materials are expected to be field tested in 50 schools in Fall 2007 and made available nationally in 2009.