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.

A Short Stay in Switzerland

January 28, 2009

A Short Stay in Switzerland is a BBC dramatisation telling the true story of Dr Anne Turner. Diagnosed with the degenerative neurological condition Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) and facing progressive deterioration in her condition, Dr Turner decided that she would end her own life by travelling to the Swiss clinic ‘Dignitas’. Unlike the UK, assisted euthanasia is legal in Switzerland. A Short Stay in Switzerland tells a highly emotive account of a woman who wishes to “die with dignity”, a decision eventually supported by her children.

00. The moment Dr Anne Turner tells her children that she has PSP.

A Short Stay In Switzerland - BBC 1 Sunday 25th January 2009, 21:00. The moment Dr Anne Turner tells her children that she has PSP.

The programme follows the events during the final stages of Anne Turner’s life. Although the dramatisation attempts to illustrate events as accurately as possible, it does so with a clear agenda in favour of her autonomous decision and it does not discuss the other possible alternatives when faced with such a situation in any detail.

There is, however, a section of the programme which shows Dr Turner’s children attempting to convince her that her life is worth living and that they can provide palliative care for her (00:25 :10 – 00:33:33). In this specific case, Dr Turner succeeds in her wish after an unsuccessful suicide attempt in her home persuades her children how determined she is. (Warning:  if using the section indicated by the timings above, please be aware that the scenes that follow, graphically depict Turner’s earlier suicide attempt and therefore may not be suitable for all audiences).

There is also a BBC news article about the programme and you may be interested in this post on Panorama – I’ll die when I choose.

BBC News article 22nd January 2009. 'A Short Stay in Switzerland'.

BBC News article 22nd January 2009. 'A Short Stay in Switzerland'.

 A Short Stay in Switzerland was first broadcast on BBC 1 21:00 – 22:30  (90 minutes) Sunday 25th January 2009, and is available on BBC iPlayer until 10:29pm Sunday 1st February 2009.


Panorama – I’ll Die When I Choose

December 11, 2008

In recent weeks a spate of stories concerning euthanasia have received prominent coverage in the British media. This post focuses on one of these, the BBC 1 Panorama documentary I’ll die when I choose. Please note that this post reports the content of the programme without, as yet, significant discussion of the ethical arguments for and against euthanasia. It is hoped that a fuller Extended Commentary giving a more rounded perspective will follow in due course.

I’ll die when I choose investigates the issues that surround assisted suicide and euthanasia. As both a MSP for the Scottish Parliament and a sufferer of Parkinson’s disease Margo Macdonald believes she can actively contribute to the debate:

Margo Macdonald MSP: “The job that I am taking on now as a lawmaker and a journalist, is to investigate the impact of our current criminalisation of people who want assistance with dying. And although I feel that I want the right to choose, I don’t know as a society we should change the law and where we should set the limits.”

This programme provides a personal insight into the lives of some patients who suffer from deliberating diseases, while providing arguments from those that oppose any changes in the law. The current post will attempt to discuss the issues raised in this programme while making reference to other recent events associated with the subject, including Daniel James‘ assisted suicide in Zurich following a rugby accident that left him paralysed and the failed attempt in the High Court by Debbie Purdy to clarify the law on assisted suicide.  

Panorama – I’ll Die When I Choose (30 minutes) was first broadcast on BBC 1 Monday 8th December 2008 20:30pm and will be repeated on BBC 1 Friday 12th December 00:25am and BBC News Channel Sunday 14th December 2008 20:30pm.  Please see other BioethicsBytes materials on Euthanasia.

Note: The programme is both very emotional and thought provoking as it contains sensitive material. It therefore may not be appropriate for all audiences and educators are strongly advised to watch the material through themselves prior to use in any teaching setting.

59am 18th December 2008)

Panorama - I'll Die When I Choose

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My Life On A Post-it Note

August 8, 2008
BBC News article

BBC News article

Christine was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The BBC documentary series One Life gave a personal insight into the effect of the disease on both the sufferer and the family around them, as they endeavour to cope with this deliberating illness. Christine (mostly referred to as Chris in the documentary) is resolute in her determination to remain independent. This, however, becomes increasingly difficult as the disease becomes progressively worse.

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Euthanasia, counterfeit drugs – Holby City

January 20, 2007

(Warning, contains plot spoilers!) In this episode, If the heart lies (October 10th 2006,  BBC1, TRILT code 005C80FB), the autumn 2006 season of Holby City continues with its strong representation of bioethic themes.  The issues of both counterfeit medicines entering legitimate supply lines and Gina Hope’s bid for euthanasia in Switzerland continue from the previous episode Taking liberties (Gina’s story is completed in the next episode, Moondance).  There is also a short, but potentially useful, discussion about saving a premature foetus against the wishes of the mother (26:12 to 27:45).

The sections developing the euthanasia storyline are 5:44-6:58, 8:10-9:30, 20:32-22:05, 29:21-31:00, 32:06-33:49, 38:22-40:30, 43:15-44:56, 52:10-53:42 and 55:16-57:06.  Of these, the discussion between Gina and Connie at 8:10 is possibly the most useful in isolation.

The counterfeit medicines plot is shown at 2:51-4:43, 14:19-15:41, 27:45-29:20, 40:32-41:35 and 48:50-50:10.  The best ‘stand alone’ section is probably the first of these, in which Bradley Hume, the assistant hospital manager, discusses the substandard drugs with the pharmaceutical supplier.  She promises to compensate the hospital but, as we discover in the clip 49 minutes in, she flees – leaving her ‘office’ and pill production machinery behind.

Euthanasia – Holby City

January 20, 2007

(Warning, contains plot spoilers!) Moondance (17th October 2006, BBC1, TRILT code 005CBA8B) focuses almost entirely on the culmination of the euthanasia storyline developed in previous episodes (eg. If the heart lies) and sees Gina Hope take her struggle with motor neurone disease to its unnatural end at an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland.  Much of the dialogue could be used to raise some of the issues.  The majority is clearly delivered from a pro-euthanasia perspective, including 10.04-11.25, 12:55-14:45, and 17:32-22:12 (especially to 19:50).  When Gina’s husband Elliott catches up with her, their conversation at the cafe, starting at 38:11, offers the most balanced introduction to the issues.  The closure of the episode is very moving and caution is required before showing this to school-age students.  At the time of writing there is an ‘episode catch-up’ on the BBC website which conveys some of the emotion, although it omits

On a different theme, a conversation between disgraced manager Bradley Hume and research registrar Reg Lund (27:40 to 30:00) gives different perspectives on the current state, values and future of the NHS  – might be an interesting clip to use with medical students to introduce issues of clinical governance and management (although the recent Open University series Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS? offers far more depth on the issue).

Euthanasia – Holby City

December 28, 2006

With her motor neurone disease getting worse, Gina decides to take matters into her own hands and plans to seek assisted suicide in Switzerland (see also the episode Moondance). The main focus of the episode Taking liberties (BBC1, October 3rd 2006; TRILT identifier 005C67BF) is her completion of necessary arrangements at Holby.  These include collecting together her favourite mementoes from her marriage to Elliott and persuading Connie to help her with the plans.  There are many sections of this episode where this theme is developed, including 11:38-12:31, 14:18-16:51, 23:14-24:24, 31:55-32:25, 33:20-34:33, 42:43-44:38 and 53:52-56:03.  The most helpful clips for raising the issues are the first two listed, which deal with the motivations for going to Switzerland, and the final clip where Gina and Connie fill in the online application form accompanied by a recording of Gina’s farewell message to Elliott.  The section from 42:43 where Elliott confides in Connie that he also seeks a swift end to Gina’s suffering may also be helpful.

As is so often the case with this series, there are two further subplots with a bioethical theme.  One involves Dr Joseph Byrne prescribing himself medication, but no isolated clips from this episode would really help in explaining the situation.  Of greater potential, however, are the revelations that some of the medicines being provided from the hospital pharmacy are counterfeit.  This storyline reflects a genuine concern that there are fake medicines finding their way into the legitimate supply lines in the UK and elsewhere (see, for example, BBC news report Fake medicines ‘a growing menace’).  Clips discussing this theme are at 24:55-25:35, 41:03-41:36 and 51:17-51:50.

End of life issues – Briefing paper

November 24, 2006

Issues at the end of life is a recent Bioethics Briefing paper written by Dr John Searle and Prof John Bryant.  It covers the ethics associated with euthanasia, and with the related (but distinct) issues of the withholding or withdrawl of treatments.

Euthanasia – Million Dollar Baby

September 13, 2006

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!)  I was really caught out by this film when I first saw it, so I hope I’m not ruining it for you with this entry.  Maggie, the female boxer played by Hilary Swank, suffers a serious accident and ends up in hospital.  She tries to persuade her coach Frankie (Clint Eastwood) to kill her and end her suffering.  To feel the full impact you really need to watch the whole, but that’s not really feasible in a teaching setting both because of the length of the movie and the violent content.  Try watching just the section where Maggie asks her coach to end her life.  This is about 1hr 45 into the film; a 3 minute clip could from that point be used as a discussion starter.  There is one verbal cross-reference in this section to “do[ing] what my daddy did for Axl” (her father put down the family dog, mentioned 1 min 14 into film) but this section still stand alone reasonably well.  Other potentially useful clips come with Frankie’s visit to his priest to discuss the situation and then a 2 minute clip starting at 1:58 where he administers a large dose of adrenalin to end Maggie’s life.