Bioethics Forum Essay

New Bioethics Education Resources: Read about Them Here; Find Them When the Government Shutdown Is Over

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues recently announced its release of new, free materials for bioethics education. The educational materials were available for download on the commission’s website,, until 12:01 AM on October 1, when the government shut down and went dark.

But you don’t have to wait until the government returns to full service, and the presidential commission’s website is up again, to get more information. Lisa M. Lee, executive director of the presidential commission, and two colleagues describe their materials in an essay in the current issue of the Hastings Center Report.

The educational materials, developed from the commission’s reports, are designed for diverse audiences, including undergraduates, graduate students, medical students, and scientists. As an advisory body, the bioethics commission is charged with issuing reports with recommendations on bioethics-related topics, but, as the authors put it, “the commission is committed to seeing its recommendations implemented.” Providing easily accessible, free materials based on its own analyses is an effort to achieve that goal.

“Establishing the appropriate ethical foundation early in education and reinforcing it throughout a career allows professionals across disciplines to build rigorous ethics into their daily work and to anticipate problems, helping prevent ethical surprises and obstacles down the road,” write Lee and coauthors Hillary Wicai Viers, the communications director, and Misti Ault Anderson, a research analyst at the presidential commission.

But there is a lack of ethics education for scientists, medical students, and other professionals. “Most training in the responsible conduct of research focuses on compliance with regulations rather than addressing the ethical foundation of the regulations,” they write. “Even among students expected to study ethics– medical students, for example–current education is not meeting expectation. A recent survey of medical students documented that many of those in their third year did not apply the language of ethics that they had learned early in medical school, even when asked to reason about situations that presented ethical challenges.”

Some of the commission’s educational resources are study guides of specific reports, such as A Study Guide to “Ethically Impossible” STD Research in Guate­mala from 1946-1948. Other resources are topic-oriented, such as informed consent, or compensation for research-related injury, integrating material from different bioethics commission reports and presenting case studies. This video of commission representatives provides more information.

“In many of its ethical analyses resulting in recommenda­tions to the President, the commission has emphasized the principle of responsible stewardship, calling for prudent vigi­lance in considering what we as a society can and should do in anticipation of and response to emerging technologies to be responsible stewards of the world and its safety, now and in the future,” says the essay. “Coupled with the responsibility of individu­als and institutions to use their scientific capacity in morally responsible ways, the obligation to prepare scientists of all disciplines to understand the direct and indirect impact of their work on individuals and society at large is clear. It is incumbent upon every disci­pline to ensure that scientists and health care providers are able to identify ethically chal­lenging situations, to make morally sound decisions in response to these situations, and to seek and receive the support they need to do so.”

The Hastings Center Report and the Presidential Commission are planning a special issue of the Report to address current themes in bioethics education. They are calling for papers on four broad topics: 1) assessing the state of bioethics education, 2) incorporating professional, clinical, research, and public health ethics education into medical and STEM education at secondary, undergraduate, and graduate levels, 3) methods for bioethics instruction, and 4) best practices in bioethics education.

Susan Gilbert is the public affairs and communications manager of The Hastings Center.

Posted by Susan Gilbert at 10/02/2013 05:57:50 PM

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