Infusing Bioethics into Biology and Microbiology Courses and Curricula: A Vertical Approach
With the rise of biomedicine and biotechnology, there has been a corresponding growth in the need for better understanding of consequent ethical questions. Increasingly, biologists are being asked not only to offer technical clarifications but also to venture ethical opinions, for which most feel poorly equipped. This expectation puts pressure on biology instructors at the university level to provide biology majors the skills and experience to discuss with some confidence and competence bioethical issues which may arise in either the workplace or through public discourse in everyday contexts. Many fine curricular resources about bioethics are available for varied pedagogical purposes, but few target undergraduate biology or microbiology student audiences. When it occurs in the context of a course, bioethics instruction often is taught by non-biologists outside standard biology curricula. We propose that biologists should strive to “infuse” bioethical thinking into their courses and major curricula but not in such a way as merely to point at ethical problems, treating them at a surface level. We suggest what we call “vertical infusion”: taking one bioethical issue per course and integrating this issue within the context of a relevant biological topic, challenging students to push their thinking beyond their initial intuitions toward underlying scientific and ethical principles. While the vertical approach lacks widespread coverage of ethical issues throughout a single course, it has the advantage of taking the bioethical dimension seriously and in intimate relation to contemporary discoveries in biology and to the biological principles, processes, or procedures that occasioned the ethical quandaries in the first place.
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