High School Bioethics Project Lesson Plans
Lesson plans from NYU Langone’s High School Bioethics Project serve as guides for teachers who want to incorporate an in-depth analysis of bioethical issues and debates into their life sciences, social sciences, public policy, or theology courses. They are evidence-based tools that teachers can use to lead classes and discussions on topics in bioethics. Each lesson plan contains background information, readings, suggested classroom procedures and activities, and links for additional information and resources.
Our Lesson Plans
- What Is Ethics?: Key Distinctions
- Antibiotic Resistance: Ethical, Social, and Medical Threats
- Are Animals One of Us?: Thinking Critically About the Ethics of Animal Use in Biomedical Research
- Childhood Sports Participation: When Is It Too Much?
- Compassionate Use
- Conceptual Foundations of Bioethics
- Embryonic Stem Cell Research
- Ethics of Assisted Reproduction Technologies
- Ethics of Organ Farming and Interspecies Chimeras
- Ethics of Vaccinations
- Genetic Modification: The Ethical and Societal Implications of CRISPR Technology
- Genetic Testing
- Introduction to Environmental Ethics and Its Applications to Climate Change
- Life, Death, and the Terri Schiavo Case
- Organ Donation
- Physician Aid in Dying
- Psychopharmacology and the Self
- Sex Selection, Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, and Designer Babies
- Teenage Gender Ambiguity
- Teens and Children in Clinical Research: An Ethical Discussion
What Is Ethics?: Key Distinctions
When is the last time you turned to your best friend or your parent and asked, “Hey, can we chat about ethics?” Unless you are a rare exception to the rule, the answer to this question is never. This may be due, in large part, to the reputation of ethics. It is often regarded as an abstract topic of debate discussed in a religion or philosophy class. Furthermore, not many people seem to believe that a discussion of ethics has any practical value or relevance in our everyday lives. Access the What is Ethics?: Key Distinctions lesson plan.
Antibiotic Resistance: Ethical, Social, and Medical Threats
Antibiotics are molecules and a type of medicine that target specific bacterial structures or processes. They are prescribed to inhibit the growth of or kill bacteria and fungi. Unfortunately, with increased use and misuse of antibiotics, certain bacterial strains have evolved to develop resistance to the antibiotic drugs that were originally used to eradicate them. If people continue to misuse antibiotics, and doctors keep unnecessarily prescribing them, a completely resistant bacterial strain may set back modern medicine to a time without antibiotics. There are different solutions proposed in this module, which can aid in slowing down the evolution of these “superbugs.”
However, there are a few ethical discussions to be had surrounding the best path forward. For example, is it better to treat patients with antibiotics right away and in high dosages, while risking the development of a resistance to the treatment? Or is it better to treat with alternatives to antibiotics and in lower dosages so as to prevent future generations of patients from having to deal with higher frequencies of resistant bacteria? Should we be making it easier to develop drugs to promote the production of new antibiotics? The goal of this lesson plan is to educate students on how to properly assess the use of antibiotics as well as equip them with the tools necessary to discuss the different solutions to combating antibiotic resistance. Access the Antibiotic Resistance: Ethical, Social, and Medical Threats lesson plan.
Are Animals One of Us?: Thinking Critically About the Ethics of Animal Use in Biomedical Research
This material urges students to think about how we use animals in our everyday lives and in biomedical research, and to evaluate philosophical and ethical issues surrounding animal use. Animals are obviously living, breathing, complex beings like humans, but at the same time, they differ from us in many ways, and we treat them very differently than we treat other humans. In what fundamental ways do animals differ from humans? What justifies our differential treatment of animals? Do animals deserve the same level of rights and respect as humans? If so, why? Or are they so significantly different that we should treat them with a different code of ethics? Students explore these and other questions from various religious and philosophical perspectives. Access the Are Animals One of Us?: Thinking Critically About the Ethics of Animal Use in Biomedical Research lesson plan.
Childhood Sports Participation: When Is It Too Much?
This lesson plan delves into the ethical dilemmas regarding whether children should participate in competitive sports at a young age, and how participation in sports may impact them in the future. Students learn about the potential benefits and risks children face when they start playing, and possibly specializing in, competitive sports from a very early age and the common injuries young athletes face. The plan contains personal reflections and case-based activities, in addition to one activity in which students review and discuss personal narratives from college athletes detailing their experiences with college-level sports, and two activities in which students analyze case-based scenarios regarding conflicts in sports. Access the Childhood Sports Participation: When Is It Too Much? lesson plan.
This lesson plan encourages students to think through ethical and social issues surrounding the compassionate use of experimental drugs and devices. Students are exposed to the process of testing and licensing new drugs with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in an effort to understand the motivations for compassionate use and the ethical issues it raises. The unit relies on a case-based approach to learning, and students are led in an analysis of the issues presented in three different cases. Access the Compassionate Use lesson plan.
Conceptual Foundations of Bioethics
Although bioethics has been around for more than four decades, the field of neuroethics is in its infancy. Philosophers have developed several conceptual frameworks that contain valuable insights concerning the analysis of questions of right and wrong, good and bad. These ethical theories can help us as we struggle with the moral dilemmas presented to us by advances in brain science. Access the Conceptual Foundations of Bioethics lesson plan.
Embryonic Stem Cell Research
In this unit, students explore the scientific, conceptual, and ethical implications of embryonic stem cell research. Why does this matter? Well, for one, the decision of whether to allow or ban stem cell research may have a significant impact on the lives and welfare of thousands, if not millions, of people. The reason the debate between advocates and opponents of stem cell research is so fierce is that the arguments used are based on deep-seated beliefs about the nature and status of human life and personhood. One of the main goals of this unit is to provide students with a thorough understanding of several concepts surrounding stem cell research so that they can develop an informed perspective on the topic. Access the Embryonic Stem Cell Research lesson plan.
Ethics of Assisted Reproduction Technologies
Assisted reproduction has become more widely used in recent years. Technological advancements have widened the definition and possibility of parenting. Women who wish to delay having a child, LGBTQ+ couples, single mothers, and infertile couples are among the people who may now become parents. With the broadening possibility of becoming a parent, should there be any restrictions, or does everyone have the right to have children? How much control should people have over the conception of their children, and are there any scenarios in which the technologies should not be used? What are some of the new ethical questions resulting from the improvement in these technologies? This unit provides background on some of these technologies and how they work, presents some of the ethical questions, and facilitates the formulation of opinions about the issues. Access the Ethics of Assisted Reproduction Technologies lesson plan.
Ethics of Organ Farming and Interspecies Chimeras
This lesson plan examines the ethical issues surrounding human–animal chimeras and their use in the production of organs for transplant. Currently, there is a prodigious backlog of transplants in the United States. The median wait time for an organ transplant is almost 5 years, and about 20 people die every day while waiting on the transplant list. This crisis has necessitated the development of new strategies to acquire organs for transplant. Among these advances is the prospect of growing a custom organ for a recipient using chimeras.
Chimeras are organisms made up of two genetically distinct types of cells. Chimerization can occur within a single species or between two different species. The latter type has garnered interest among scientists as a possible method for generating organs suitable for human transplant. The proposed strategy is to create a chimera from a non-human animal embryo, usually a pig, and human stem cells. Eventually, after the chimera reaches adulthood, the stem cell donor receives a transplant with a new, humanoid organ from the chimera. Naturally, crossing species and sacrificing animal lives for organ farming comes with some ethical baggage, but chimera research has been prominent for several decades and foretells a bright future. The goal of this segment is to educate students in the subject of chimera research, particularly how it pertains to organ transplant, and spark healthy debate surrounding the ethics of this medical advance. Access the Ethics of Organ Farming and Interspecies Chimeras lesson plan.
Ethics of Vaccinations
The invention of the vaccine is unarguably one of the greatest medical achievements in the past century. Since the invention of vaccinations, the wide use of immunizations has drastically lowered the incidence of—and, in some cases, completely eradicated—infectious diseases that once took the lives of millions. Vaccines protect children and adults against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases, including measles, smallpox, mumps, whooping cough, human papilloma virus (HPV), and the flu, among others. Access the Ethics of Vaccinations lesson plan.
Genetic Modification: The Ethical and Societal Implications of CRISPR Technology
This unit aims to build an understanding of the moral and ethical implications of genetic modification, specifically regarding the use of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) technology for germline (heritable) and somatic (nonheritable) genetic editing. It incorporates a study of recent scientific discoveries, breakthroughs, and controversies through ethical and conceptual lenses. While CRISPR has a variety of potential applications, we explore the genetic modification of human DNA and the consequences of these edits. CRISPR is a technology adapted from a naturally occurring genome-editing system in bacteria that is a more accurate, effective, and cost-efficient way to alter DNA than techniques used previously. It allows geneticists and medical researchers to edit parts of the genome by removing, adding, or altering parts of the DNA sequence.
What is CRISPR and how does it work? Why have scientists currently called for a moratorium on the clinical use of CRISPR for germline modification? What is the future of CRISPR, how will it be regulated, and how will it affect the world in which we live? Students delve into these questions and leave the classroom with a newfound understanding of the ethical implications behind the use of this technology. Access the Genetic Modification: The Ethical and Societal Implications of CRISPR Technology lesson plan.
Genetic testing has become extremely popular in the past decade. People have begun making use of the wide variety of resources at hand to test their susceptibility to disease, ancestry, even their athletic ability. As the science of genetic testing continues to develop and provide us with new information about our DNA, certain ethical questions regarding the proper use of these tests come into question. While certain genetic tests may be beneficial to individuals with specific diseases, these tests may also set off premature and unnecessary fear. Would you like to know you were prone to an untreatable, terminal disease? What about your children? Who should deliver results of genetic tests, and how should we regulate information? This material employs a case-based approach to foster critical thinking and discussion about particular people and cases, and offers those cases as a springboard to discuss deeper ethical issues. Access the Genetic Testing lesson plan.
Introduction to Environmental Ethics and Its Applications to Climate Change
The concept of global warming has attracted substantial attention in recent decades as climate change manifests itself in hotter summers and colder winters, disrupted growing seasons, rising sea levels, and devastating natural disasters. Scientific research continues to provide evidence not only that our climate is changing at an alarming rate, but also that human activity is the culprit. Due largely to influence by the media, America’s population is split on the subject, with many convinced that global warming is a matter of belief. Unfortunately, the near-consensus of the scientific community does not suffice in convincing politicians, science-denialist groups, and the general public of human contributions to climate change and its dramatic implications. Access the Introduction to Environmental Ethics and Its Applications to Climate Change lesson plan.
Life, Death, and the Terri Schiavo Case
In 2005, after a protracted legal battle, Terri Schiavo was disconnected from life support and subsequently died. Terri had spent the previous 15 years in a permanent vegetative state. The question at the center of the fierce public debate over her fate—and the question students try to answer in this unit—is whether the decision to discontinue life support for Terri Schiavo was justified or not. Students explore the profound ethical and philosophical implications of this case and enhance their critical thinking skills. Access the Life, Death, and the Terri Schiavo Case lesson plan.
The ethical questions raised by organ transplant are multiple and complex. Three main issues related to organ transplant include the fundamental morality of transplanting body parts, the ethics of organ procurement, and the ethics of allocation. Does organ transplant involve too much control of nature, and lead to scenarios of “playing God”? The technological and medical advancements associated with organ transplant have saved the lives of many, but scarce organ resources have contributed to many social issues regarding allocation. There are more than 100,000 candidates on the organ waiting list in the United States, and the organ supply is scarce. Who should get the available organs, and by what criteria should this decision be made? Access the Organ Donation lesson plan.
Physician Aid in Dying
If someone knew that they were going to die, they would most likely want to die peacefully and painlessly alongside their friends and family. Some people with terminal illnesses who have less than six months to live request physician aid in dying (PAD), in order to die when and where they want. PAD has been legalized in Oregon (1994), Washington (2009), Vermont (2013), and California (“Death with Dignity,” 2016) and is being disputed in Montana. People living in other states may not request PAD unless they establish residency in one of the aforementioned states. For example, Brittany Maynard, who is discussed in this lesson plan, moved from California to Oregon in 2014 to request PAD. Maynard’s case was one of the major factors that led Californians to legalize PAD in their state. Many people oppose PAD because it contradicts their religious value of life. Others oppose it because it contradicts the healing role of a physician. This content explores the philosophical, medical, and legal perspectives that contribute to this fierce debate. Access the Physician Aid in Dying lesson plan.
Psychopharmacology and the Self
The development of psychotropic drugs has stimulated a renewed interest in questions about what constitutes the self and one’s personality. Does an authentic, static, and unalterable self exist? Do antidepressants alter, enhance, or corrupt the authentic self? Is cognitive enhancement possible and desirable, and if so, is it ethical? These are not new questions, although the philosophical underpinnings of such questions are now better informed by cognitive science. In this lesson, such questions guide an exploration of the impact psychotropic drugs have had on our understanding of the self. Students critically examine the ethical dimensions of so-called lifestyle drugs that make people “better than well.” A careful examination of the use of stimulants such as Ritalin® and Adderall®—drugs often used in schools and colleges as study aids—are particularly relevant to future (undergraduate) students. Access the Psychopharmacology and the Self lesson plan.
Sex Selection, Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, and Designer Babies
Assisted reproductive technologies afford prospective parents the ability to select their children’s sex, and to determine whether their children have a particular hereditary disease or disability. While current technology only allows for the selection of embryos that have such traits, parents may soon even be able to engineer their child’s genome for certain desirable traits, like better immunity to disease or higher intelligence. There are many ethical discussions surrounding where to draw the line when it comes to selecting for traits and, in the near future, engineering the genome itself. Should parents be allowed to select the sex of their children? What about selecting against hereditary disease? What implications would genome engineering have on society? This lesson plan reviews ethical debates about the use of biomedical technologies to “design” babies, giving students the tools that they need to have an informed discussion, respectfully deliberate with their peers, and form their own opinions on the matter. Access the Sex Selection Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, and Designer Babies lesson plan.
Teenage Gender Ambiguity
This unit explores various ethical and conceptual issues surrounding gender. Gender refers to one’s sense of being either male or female and is influenced by a wide variety of factors. One’s gender may be closely associated with one’s sexual anatomy, as when someone with a penis feels like a male. But that need not be the case. Gender dysphoria, for example, is characterized by a persistent feeling of severe discomfort with one’s anatomical sex. Someone who is gender expansive may not feel like either a man or a woman, but somewhere in between. Gender is influenced as well by society, social roles, family life, education, and other biological factors such as hormones.
We explore ethical issues that arise when teenagers feel discomfort with their anatomical sex, leading to gender nonconformity or gender dysphoria. Questions include the following: How should physicians respond to gender dysphoria? How young is too young to begin transitioning genders? What is the role of parents when a teen seeks to transition? What should same-sex schools do to make gender nonconforming students feel welcome? The goal of the unit is to encourage informed, open dialogue regarding gender and related issues. Access the Teenage Gender Ambiguity lesson plan.
Teens and Children in Clinical Research: An Ethical Discussion
This lesson plan provides insight into the ethical challenges surrounding the involvement of children and teens in clinical research. It encourages students to think about what types of ethical challenges adolescents face in the medical community and the involvement of doctors, researchers, and parents and guardians in medical ethics. Students are exposed to information concerning institutional review board (IRB) regulations, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, and the various pillars of medical ethics that researchers and doctors must adhere to whenever adolescents are involved in clinical research. This guide relies on statistics and hypothetical situations, both of which are explained and analyzed so that the students may follow and comprehend accordingly. Access Teens and Children in Clinical Research: An Ethical Discussion lesson plan.