Ethics in the biosciences (Resource)

September 8, 2011
cover of briefing document

The Briefing contains recommendations about useful resources for teaching about various aspects of bioethics

Anyone involved in teaching ethics to bioscience students should get hold of a copy of Ethics in the biosciences: Resources, references and tools for ethics teaching in the biosciences. This is the second Briefing document produced by the UK Centre for Bioscience (the first was on Assessment).

The new booklet includes coverage of the following topics:

    • Teaching ethics
    • Assessing ethics
    • Ethical theory: How are ethical decisions made?
    • The ethics of being a scientist
    • Environmental ethics
    • Issues at the beginning of life
    • Issues at the end of life
    • Genetics and genomes
    • Animal experimentation
    • Transhumanism
    • Ethics and Risk

Each chapter includes a short introduction written by an expert on the topic and then a recommendations of other resources (websites, books, articles, slides, videos, etc) which have proven to be useful in teaching on the subject.

In addition to the online version of the booklet, a number of hard copies have been produced – if you would like one please contact the UK Centre for Bioscience before December 2011 when, unfortunately, their activities will be substantially scaled back.

BBC Radio 4 Today programme – Ethical issues in prenatal diagnosis and screening

January 22, 2009
Listen again via the BBC Radio 4's Today programme archive

Listen again via the BBC Radio 4's Today programme archive

This brief post concerns a short section of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, broadcast on January 7th 2009. The clip itself is approximately 4.5 minutes long and features interviews with Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, of the Autism Research Centre, and Joy Delhanty, professor of human genetics at University College London, who prospectively discuss the ethical issues involved in prenatal testing for autism. It was broadcast alongside the corresponding edition of the BBC News’ weekly column Scrubbing Up, in which leading clinicians and experts give their perspectives on various issues in health and bioethics.

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The Family Man – playing God at the fertility clinic?

June 23, 2008

The Family Man – Dr Patrick Stowe  

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) The Family Man is a three part BBC 1 drama centred on the successful (fictional) ‘Wishart Fertility Clinic’. The patriarch of the clinic is Dr Patrick Stowe (Trevor Eve) whom is driven by pursuit of better ways to help distressed couples have a child. The drama follows four couples facing a spectrum of fertility problems. In an attempt to fulfil their dreams, they turn to Dr Stowe to help find the answers. At times this tests the legal parameters of fertility treatment in the United Kingdom, and as such raises a whole raft of bioethical issues.

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Genetic testing – Child of our time

January 31, 2008

In 2000, the BBC launched Child of our time, an ambitious experiment to record the lives of twenty-five children over twenty years. The aim was to establish how our genes and the environment combine to make us who we are and shape our personality. Sir Robert Winston (IVF – A child against all odds) the fertility expert and TV personality presents the programmes as they follow a series of newborns from before birth through to adulthood.

BBC Child of our time Homepage

BBC ‘Child of our time’ Homepage  

In this post we focus on two segments for the first series of Child of our time.  These are: Series 1 The journey begins (00:22:00 – 00:28:40) and  Series 1 – Birthdays (00:23:00 – 00:24:26).  Both episodes are available online, see bottom of this post for details about how to access them.

This bioethical discussion, focuses on one set of parents, Neil and Gillian Roberts, who decide to be genetically tested for the Angiotensin I converting enzyme (ACE) gene. It has been suggested that certain variants of this gene help increase stamina and efficient use of oxygen, and thus have been linked to success in sporting activities The father, a keen athlete and sportsman, suggests that both he and the future mother be tested for this variant to establish whether their new born might subsequently have a chance of inheriting it. The result (which appears in the ‘Birthdays’ episode) is negative and neither parent has this particular variant. Read the rest of this entry »

The Allen Family – Bitter Inheritance (2)

July 19, 2007

By a “cruel stroke of genetic fate”, the Allen family turn out to be affected by not just for one, but two horrendous genetic diseases. This programme, the second in the Bitter Inheritance series on genetic disease, begins by telling the story of Bethany, a young girl who was born with Sanfilippo syndrome. (Further information about this disease can be found at this BBC website). This is a rare autosomal recessive disorder, i.e. you need to inherit a faulty copy of the relevant gene from both parents. The disease causes the progressive degeneration of both the nervous system, including the brain, and will ultimately lead to Bethany’s death, probably during her mid-teens. With no cure available, the family frequently express their feeling of helplessness and frustration.  As John, her father, states “when you are told that your daughter is going to die… you can’t imagine it”. The family is provided with much support by friends and doctors who reassure the parents that she is happy and that “she’ll never know she has got it, and she’ll never be in any pain”.

After much deliberation, Bethany’s parents (00:04:24) decide they want to try and have another child. Without any sort of medical intervention, there is a 1-in-4 possibility that the new child will also have the syndrome. This raises a clear ethical question – knowing those odds, should the parents continue? If they do take that risk, are they prepared to abort an affected foetus? As it turns out, the new child is not a sufferer, but clips show the emotional rollercoaster taken by both parents along the way and the difficult decisions the have to make (00:19:50 to 00:20:32 and 00:30:19 to 00:38:20).

Whilst all of this is going on, it turns out that Bethany’s grandmother has Huntington’s disease (HD). Like Sanfilippo Syndrome, HD is a progressive neurodegenerative disease, but it differs both in the way it is inherited (in an autosomal dominant fashion, i.e. if you’ve got one copy of the gene, then you will get the disease) and at the time of onset (a sufferer normally starts to show symptoms in their 40s rather than aged 2 to 4). A section halfway through the episode (00:23:05 to 00:28:17) shows the burden on the already emotionally-strained family; as Jo, Bethany’s mother, puts it “If you think about it too much, you would crack up”. Jo’s sister summarises the nightmare scenario which might unfold over the next ten years: “For Jo, she could have a mother that’s ill [with HD], a daughter who’s sick [with Sanfilippo], a sister who is seriously ill [with HD] and find that she is also seriously ill [with HD]”. Read the rest of this entry »