NEW COURSE: BIOETHICS AND THE NEWS

This semester I’ve been experimenting with a new class: Bioethics in the News. It’s based on the premise that one can wake up on any morning, turn to one’s news source of choice and find at least one article related to bioethics. Right now, as we cope with the challenges of Ebola, that article is likely to be on the front page, but it can also be found in the Style section (models with eating disorders?) or Business (orphan drugs?). Celebrity magazines are full of great fodder about assisted reproduction, support for anti-vaccine campaigns, or the newest “miracle” cure.

The class, a freshman seminar, meets only once a week for 50 minutes, so the challenge is to use every minute effectively. Each class, three students are assigned to present news stories they have garnered over the last week. Each student has 90 seconds to present the story and suggest at least one bioethics hook. Then the class votes among the three topics, choosing which they want to discuss the following week. I have 48 hours to find background materials to post on CourseSite, our platform. Often, I’ll also make and post a brief video introducing the topic, so as not to spend precious class time lecturing.

We’re about halfway through now, and it’s been an exhilarating experience, at least for me. It’s strange but refreshing—and a little bit scary!–not to be in control of the syllabus. Sometimes it’s easy to come up with supporting materials, but sometimes it’s a real challenge, as it was this week, when the target article was an op-ed arguing that pedophilia should be considered a disability under the ADA! Other topics have included the alleged link between autism and vaccination; scientific fraud; foreign aid and the Ebola virus; the “Body World” exhibition; selective memory erasure. My goal is to get students into the habit of seeing the news in a more analytic fashion and to show them how bioethics issues cross all sorts of boundaries. But, as usual, I’m probably learning as much as they are.

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