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Educational Tool on Bioethical Issues (2009)
Train your pupils in a participatory approach, which is fundamental to education for citizenship, by organising an informed, multidisciplinary debate on bioethical issues. This teaching aid is designed in particular for fourth form to upper sixth form teachers of biology, philosophy and civic education. Five themes are addressed in this publication:

  • organ donation;
  • medically assisted procreation;
  • genetic testing;
  • cloning; and
  • biomedical research.

Educational tool on bioethical issues: an initiative of the Council of Europe

Bioethics is by nature a multidisciplinary and pluralistic reflection on issues which concern the whole of society. As stated by the French Consultative National Ethics Committee in its Recommendations of 7 November 1988, “it shall neither be confidential nor restricted to specialists”. All members of the society are concerned by the questions raised by the applications of biology and medicine, not least young people – the future of society. Education, in particular in school setting, is a privileged way for raising awareness of young people on bioethical issues and on the importance of their participation in the consideration of these issues. The evolution of school education programmes, which now include bioethical concepts, but also tend to promote debate on some issues pertinent to bioethics, shows how bioethics has gained importance and are viewed as an integral part of education for citizenship. The Council of Europe – an organisation composed of 47 European states has been studying ethical problems raised by the developments in biology and medicine for a number of years. In developing an educational tool, the Council of Europe aims at providing support to teachers and professors wishing to address and discuss with their students (from 10th to 12th grade) bioethical questions.

General objective

The primary objective is to raise young people’s awareness on bioethical questions, by providing in particular assistance in initiating an open debate on these issues among the students. This debate also encourages development of autonomy of reflection and promotion of active participation in public debate (education for citizenship). This teaching tool is also designed to show the European dimension of the reflection on these issues. Finally, it provides information to clarify some basic scientific and medical notions.

Structure and easiness of use of the educational tool

The educational tool is composed of sets of five sheets (general introduction, scientific aspects, ethical and legal aspects, practical case studies, glossary and references) addressing a particular subject. These sheets are not intended to provide complete information on the subject, but to give basic information on different aspects (in particular scientific, ethical and legal) of the subject concerned. They aim at facilitating the initiation by the professor of a debate among his/her students what ever is the matter he or she is teaching (biology, philosophy, history,…). The professor knows therefore that the students are provided with the essential primary information in the relevant fields concerned to participate in the debate. This design also makes it easier to organise multidisciplinary activities.

Beginning the debate is made easier by the presentation of several practical cases followed by questions to start and to structure discussions on the ethical issues raised by the situation described.

Easy to use by professors whatever is their teaching field, the design of the educational tool provides also for some flexibility in the preparation and duration of the activity undertaken. The tool was designed taking into account a certain number of key elements for all users, in particular teaching programme as well as time constraints for preparing and carrying out activities of this type within such a framework. The tool may thus be used for a simple short debate following individual reading of the sheets or for a longer activity with more in-depth preparation using the references presented in the last sheet.

Experience

When designing the educational tool, professors in different fields were consulted and their suggestions taken into account. The set of sheets were successfully tested in several high schools in France, in particular the Lycée Jean Rostand (Strasbourg).

Subject addressed

Five sets of sheets have been drafted so far. They address organ donation, genetic testing, medically assisted procreation, cloning and biomedical research.

Distribution

The French version of the educational tool developed by the Council of Europe has been distributed in cooperation with Belin (French school editor). However, three sets are directly available free of charge on the website of the “Etats généraux de la bioéthique », at the request of the steering group responsible for the organisation of these Etats généraux launched in France in February 2009. The sheets concerning organ donation, medically assisted procreation and genetic testing can therefore be downloaded from the website. These sheets have been translated into German and English. They are currently used in Austria, at the initiative of the Austrian National Ethics Committee, in the framework of a high school professors training programme set up by the Education Ministry.