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Ethics in the Science Classroom: An Instructional Guide for Secondary School Science Teachers



Author(s) Theodore Goldfarb Michael Pritchard

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.

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.

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Contributor(s) Michael Pritchard
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Authoring Institution (obsolete) Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC
Volume 8
Issue 3
Year 1999
Publisher provided Keywords Instructional Methods Pedagogical Materials SCIENCE
Publisher National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center
Language English

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Table of Contents

Lesson 17, Whose Life Is It?

Patricia Hayes, Clarke High School, Westbury, Long Island, NY

Overview of Lesson

Courses for Which the Lesson is Intended
Biology classes. (It should be preceded, earlier in the school year, by a lesson that introduces the class to the general consideration of the roles of ethics and values in science.)
Types of Teaching/Learning Activities Employed in this Category that Best Describes this Lesson
Social issues.
Ethics/Values Issues Raised by this Lesson
The ethics of cloning human beings as compared to plants or animals; the ethics of a parental agreement that imposes unusual involuntary obligations on a child; the ethics of imposing restrictions on scientific research; the rights of a child to know the details of her/his genetic heritage.

Lesson Plan

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.

  1. Students are given a homework assignment (see below) requiring them to read the futuristic, fictional story Whose Life Is It? and to answer questions about the important scientific/technical aspects of the story.
  2. At the beginning of the next class the teacher invites students to present their answers to the homework questions and leads a brief discussion designed to provide all of the students with the correct information about the scientific/technical details of the story before beginning the ethics lesson.
  3. The class is then divided into cooperative learning groups, each of which is given twenty minutes to formulate answers to a set of questions about the ethics and values issues related to the story.
  4. The teacher then conducts a discussion about differences among the answers to the questions arrived at by the groups. An effort should be made to get the students to recognize some of the differences in values that underlie the responses to the questions and to consider other reasons for their specific responses.
  5. The students are then given a homework assignment requiring each of them to write a letter to their representative in Congress concerning the student's views about federal support for research on human cloning and describing any restrictions or guidelines that Congress should impose on the scientists who do cloning research.

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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.

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Homework Questions

  1. Explain why a germanium plant grown from a leaf placed in water is an example of cloning.
  2. Describe the technique used in 1961 by Dr. J.B. Gurdon to clone a frog.
  3. Explain what a blastula is.
  4. Explain why Jean and Dr. Hayes are the same sex and why Jean's kidneys are ideally suited for Dr Hayes transplant operation.
  5. Since every human cell contains all of the information required to make an entire human being in its DNA, why isn't it possible to simply use any cell to clone an individual?
  6. Explain why identical twins are the same as clones.

Ethics Questions For Classroom Lesson

  1. Dr. Hayes did not reveal her decision to clone herself in addition to the chimpanzees because she knew that the National Institutes of Health would not approve. Give two reasons why the government agency might object to cloning humans, although it approved of cloning monkeys.
  2. Do you approve of the cloning of (a) plants, (b) mice (c) monkeys (d) humans? Explain your answers.
  3. Do you think that Dr Hayes' was justified in secretly cloning herself because of her kidney condition? Explain your answer.
  4. Do you think that the Truebloods decision to accept Dr.Hayes' terms for the embryo implant was ethically justified? Explain your answer.
  5. Should the Truebloods have told Jean about her biological heritage and about the terms of the agreement they signed? If so, at what age should she have learned these facts?
  6. Is Jean obligated to honor the terms of the agreement? Explain your answer.
  7. Does the fact that Jean's upbringing and education have been partly payed for by Dr. Hayes have any influence on your answer to question 5. Explain your answer.
  8. If one identical twin needs a kidney transplant due to a condition not related to heredity, should the other twin feel obligated to donate one of his/her kidneys for a transplant operation? Explain your answer? Why would the situation be different if one of the twins needed a liver transplant?

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.

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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.

Return to Part 2 - Model Classroom Lessons

Return to Ethics in the Science Classroom: An Instructional Guide for Secondary School Science Teachers

Cite this page: "Lesson 17, Whose Life Is It?" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 7/14/2006 OEC Accessed: Thursday, July 11, 2019 <>