Last month, we introduced our new “Deliberation and Education” series with the blog post “A Background on Deliberation and Education in Bioethics.” This post highlighted the role of deliberation and education in the recommendations issued by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission), and in a following post, we examined the role of these principles in the Bioethics Commission’s first report: New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies. The third post in this series will examine deliberation and education in the Commission’s third report: Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research.
The report came at the request of President Barack Obama, who asked the Bioethics Commission to conduct an assessment of research standards following the October 2010 revelation that the U.S. Public Health Service supported unethical research in Guatemala in the 1940s. The President gave the Bioethics Commission two assignments: to oversee a thorough fact-finding investigation into the specifics of the studies and to assure that current rules for research participants protect people from harm or unethical treatment, domestically as well as internationally. The Commission released “Ethically Impossible” STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948, in response to the first part of the President’s request, in September 2011. The second report, Moral Science, was released in December 2011.
In Moral Science, the Bioethics Commission made 14 recommendations, centering around a number of themes, including: improving accountability, creating a culture of responsibility, respecting equivalent protections, and promoting community engagement. While many of the recommendations were heavily centered around research or policy in order to create a culture of responsibility, the Bioethics Commission made a recommendation (#7) that included ethics education:
To ensure the ethical design and conduct of human subjects research, universities, professional societies, licensing bodies, and journals should adopt more effective ways of integrating a lively understanding of personal responsibility into professional research practice. Rigorous courses in bioethics and human subjects research at the undergraduate as well as graduate and professional levels should be developed and expanded to include ongoing engagement and case reviews for investigators at all levels of experience.
This recommendation reflects the Bioethics Commission’s emphasis on the importance of education, one that continues to be integrated into both the Commission’s later reports and in the creation of its expanding library of educational materials. By providing ethics education across the curriculum, the scientific community ensures that the clinical, research, and professional contexts are built upon solid ethical foundations, proactively preventing ethical lapses.
Moral Science and all other Bioethics Commission reports are available at bioethics.gov.