Continuing its discussion of the role of deliberation and education in bioethics, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) turned to a broad consideration of how to improve fluency in science and ethics.
Lisa M. Lee, Executive Director of the Bioethics Commission, discussed the current state of bioethics education, particularly the growth over the last decade of Master’s degree programs in bioethics, and the role of bioethics education as a complement to existing training in other disciplines or professions.
Lee said that as bioethics programs proliferate around the country, the challenge is to make sure students are well trained, and the programs do more to create competency and fluency than just “teach topics.”
Seth Mnookin, associate director of the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing, raised a difference set of concerns regarding the state of knowledge of important and frequently controversial issues in bioethics, particularly with regard to the desire for more deliberative discussions.
Mnookin said one challenge of public engagement via deliberation involves deciding who should be included in the process. He noted that his research caused him to question the approach of bringing all opinions, even the most extreme, into a public dialogue. The desire to be inclusive, he noted, can have the effect of lending legitimacy to those who insist upon beliefs that directly contradict with objective facts.
“We should not pretend they are not there,” he said, of people with polarizing or extreme views, adding that it is important to ensure that those who are invited to join the discussion are willing to consider other points of view and acknowledge objective scientific evidence. Mnookin said the tension involves a need to create a thoughtful discussion around important scientific concerns versus “going out of your way to include people who are not willing to deliberate” because they are not likely to respectfully consider other points of view.