Author(s): Michael S. Pritchard, Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University & Theodore Goldfarb, Department of Chemistry, State University of New York at Stony Brook
NOTE: This contribution appeared as a featured resource in the online and printed issues of ENC Focus: A Magazine for Classroom Innovators Vol. 8 no.3, published by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC.
Patricia Hayes, Clarke High School, Westbury, Long Island, NY
Students are given a homework assignment requiring them to read a fictional story involving the future cloning of human beings and to answer questions about some of the key technical aspects of the story. The class begins with a teacher led discussion of the answers to the homework questions, designed to assure that the ethics lesson is based on a common understanding of the scientific aspects of the story. The class is then divided into cooperative learning groups. Each group is charged with responding to a common set of questions about some of the ethical issues raised by the story. The teacher then leads a classroom discussion focused on the variety of alternative values-based responses of the different groups to the questions, as well as other possibilities suggested by the teacher or by students during the discussion. Students are then given a follow-up homework assignment based on the lesson.
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On June 23, 2018 Jean Trueblood celebrated her seventeenth birthday. Her summer activities include preparing for her freshman year at Central State University. Due to the influence of several inspiring high school science teachers, she is seriously considering biology as her major in college. She is fascinated by what she has learned so far about the amazing scientific and medical advances made possible by powerful new biotechnologies. For her final paper in her advanced Current Issues in Biology course she chose to write about the ethical implications of cloning, not knowing that this topic was about to have a direct impact on her own life.
Just one week after her birthday Jean's plans for a carefree summer were shattered by a letter received by her parents. The letter was from Dr. Cynthia Hayes who had won the Nobel Prize for groundbreaking research on the cloning of mammals. Dr. Hayes' successful research on the cloning of chimpanzees had been funded by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
As Jean's parents knew, Dr. Hayes had secretly used some of the funds to apply her new technique to the cloning of a human being. That human being was Dr. Hayes, herself. She was motivated by the fact that she had developed a chronic infection in both of her kidneys that might eventually require a kidney transplant. She knew that she had some rare blood and cell characteristics that would make it hard for her to find a matching kidney donor. With the aid of a close friend who was medical technician in Central State Medical Center's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. Hayes was able to obtain 10 human eggs removed from the ovary of a research volunteer. Then, using her new method, she was able to get four of these eggs to begin to grow into clones of herself by removing the original eggs' nuclei and inserting nuclei from her own cells. All of the successful clones were then frozen in liquid nitrogen in the early blastula stage.
With the aid of another friend who worked for a clinic for women seeking assistance in becoming pregnant, Dr. Hayes was able to locate a woman who was seeking an embryo implant after she had failed to become pregnant by any other means. That woman was Jean's mother, Valerie Trueblood. Dr. Hayes offered Jean's parents a very financially attractive deal. They could save the usual $60,000 cost of an embryo implant if they agreed to accept one of Dr. Hayes' cloned embryos and signed an agreement. The terms of the agreement caused the Truebloods to hesitate. It required the clone of Dr. Hayes that would be born to Valerie Trueblood to agree to donate one of her kidneys to Dr. Hayes should she require a transplant any time during her life. To persuade the Truebloods to accept this unusual and troubling requirement, Dr. Hayes agreed to create a $100,000 trust fund that the Truebloods could use toward the expenses of raising and educating her clone. After Dr. Hayes assured them that there was less than a 50% chance that she would ever need a kidney transplant, the Trueboods signed the agreement. A little less than nine months later Jean was born.
As the reader will certainly have guessed by now, the letter the Truebloods received from Dr. Hayes informed them that she was now in desperate need of a kidney transplant and that they should have Jean immediately "volunteer" for the tests that would determine that her kidney exactly matched Dr. Hayes' unusual tissue-typing requirements. All of this came as quite a shock to Jean who had never been informed by her parents about her biological origins or the existence of the contract they had signed.
Ethics Questions For Classroom Lesson
Follow-up Homework Assignment: Write a letter that could be sent to your representative in Congress that (1) explains your views on the cloning of human beings and (2) proposes any restrictions or guidelines that you think Congress should impose on scientists who use federal funds to do cloning research.
Cloning of human beings and other mammals has long been a component of science fiction because of the numerous fascinating (or horrifying) possibilities it opens up. This fascination has been heightened by the recent success in cloning mammals and the likelihood that the cloning of humans could soon be technically feasible. Philosophers, politicians, religious leaders and many others have begun an intense debate about the ethics and possible consequences of these advances in the science of cloning. Teachers may wish to modify the questions assigned for homework in accord with the content of the information about cloning that has been previously taught to the students. The fictional story included in this lesson is designed to raise many ethical issues in addition to the controversies typically associated with the potential cloning of human beings. The fact that the central character is a seventeen-year-old should make it easy for students to identify with her. Although this lesson could be completed in one class period, doing justice to the many important contemporary ethical concerns that are likely to emerge during the discussion will probably require continuing into a second period. This additional time can also be profitably used to read and discuss some of the letters that students are assigned to write to their Congresspersons.
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