James Wagner, Vice Chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission), recently published a commentary in Education Week. In this piece on the Bioethics Commission’s tenth report, Bioethics for Every Generation, Dr. Wagner notes that early ethics education:
“prepare[s] students for the road ahead. Each of us will face crucial bioethical decisions in our lives—how to make difficult treatment choices when diagnosed with an illness, how best to care for a sick or elderly loved one, or whether to adopt new cutting-edge technologies to detect a genetic disorder or attack a neurological disease. Ethics education can help prepare us to tackle these tough questions.”
The Bioethics Commission’s report delineates how ethics education can be tailored for different educational levels and life stages (see Fig. 4, adapted from Bioethics for Every Generation, p. 69). Dr. Wagner highlighted key ways to integrate bioethics education at the primary and secondary levels. The Bioethics Commission’s recommendations at these levels included:
- Recommendation 4: Implement Foundational Board-Based Ethics Education at all Levels: Educators at all levels, from preschool to postsecondary and professional schools, should integrate ethics education across the curriculum to prepare students for engaging with morally complex questions in a diverse range of subjects. Ethics education should include attention to both the development of moral character and virtue as well as the cultivation of ethical reasoning and decision-making skills that can be deployed in a bioethics context. Methods of ethics education should be evidence-based and grounded in best practices.
- Recommendation 6: Support Opportunities for Teacher Training in Bioethics Education: Education policymakers, teacher training programs, and other funders should support development of teacher training in ethics education to prepare teachers of all subjects to facilitate constructive bioethical conversations in their classrooms. Teacher training programs should anticipate existing educational inequities and provide teachers and students with equitable access to ethics education, with an aim of preparing all students for the bioethical questions that might arise during the course of their lives.
As Dr. Wagner concludes, Bioethics for Every Generation ties together educational recommendations the Bioethics Commission has made over its tenure: “When we strengthen ethics education for future scientists and clinicians and for every member the public, we will be better equipped to move forward as individuals and as a nation. Our hope is that every generation can “do better” as we face the dynamic future of that awaits us.”
For more information on the Bioethics Commission’s educational materials that accompany their reports, please explore our education page: http://bioethics.gov/education.