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?
- Antibiotic Resistance
- Childhood Sports Participation
- Compassionate Use
- Conceptual Foundations of Bioethics
- CRISPR and Genetic Modification
- Environmental Ethics and Climate Change
- Ethics of Animal Use in Research
- Gender Variance
- Genetic Testing
- Life, Death, and the Terri Schiavo Case
- Organ Donation
- Organ Farming and Interspecies Chimeras
- Physician Aid in Dying
- Psychopharmacology and the Self
- Reproductive Technology
- Sex Selection, Genetic Analysis, and Designer Babies
- Stem Cell Research
- Teens and Children in Clinical Research and Care
- Vaccine Ethics
What Is Ethics?
When was the last time you turned to your best friend or a 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 lesson plan.
Antibiotics are a class of medications that target specific bacterial structures or processes. They are prescribed to inhibit or kill the growth of bacteria and fungi. Unfortunately, with increased use and misuse of antibiotics, certain bacterial strains have evolved to develop antibiotic resistance to the drugs that were originally used to treat 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 dilemmas regarding viable solutions. Access the Antibiotic Resistance lesson plan.
Childhood Sports Participation
This module delves into the ethical dilemmas regarding whether or not 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 module contains personal reflections and case-based activities. Access the Childhood Sports Participation lesson plan.
This module encourages students to think through ethical and social issues surrounding compassionate use of experimental drugs and devices. Although access to drugs before they’re approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is officially called “expanded access,” the more common term is “compassionate use.” Students are exposed to the process of testing and licensing new drugs with the FDA in an effort to understand the motivations for compassionate use and the ethical issues it raises. The module relies on a case-based approach to learning. Three cases are presented, and students are led in an analysis of the issues presented in the cases. Access the Compassionate Use lesson plan.
Conceptual Foundations of Bioethics
Bioethics has been around for nearly half a century, but long before philosophers developed 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 problems that bioethicists confront. Access the Conceptual Foundations of Bioethics lesson plan.
CRISPR and Genetic Modification
This module aims to build an understanding of the moral and ethical implications of genetic modification, specifically regarding the use of CRISPR technology for germline (heritable) and somatic (non-heritable) genetic editing. The module incorporates a study of recent scientific discoveries, breakthroughs, and controversies through ethical and conceptual lenses. While CRISPR has a variety of potential applications, this module explores the genetic modification of human DNA and the consequences of these edits. Access the CRISPR and Genetic Modification lesson plan.
Environmental Ethics and 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 that not only is our climate changing at an alarming rate, but 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 Environmental Ethics and Climate Change lesson plan.
Ethics of Animal Use in Research
This module 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 animals very differently from the way we treat humans. In what fundamental ways do animals differ from humans? What justifies our different 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 a variety of religious and philosophical perspectives. Access the Ethics of Animal Use in Research lesson plan.
This module aims to give an umbrella understanding of ethical issues that underpin the medical and social treatment of gender-nonconforming and transgender individuals. Additionally, the module provides definitions of terms and phrases that can be used in conversations about gender variance to increase the visibility and accessibility of these topics. Through the examination of case studies and an introduction to topics including gender dysphoria and gender expression, gender variance is regarded through a lens that centers the stories of gender-variant individuals to bring an ethical and humanist perspective to their treatment in clinical settings. Access the Gender Variance 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, learn about their ancestry, or even discover 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 arise. Certain genetic tests may be beneficial to individuals with specific diseases, but these tests may also provoke fear of and preoccupation with what the future may hold. 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 module employs a case-based approach to foster critical thinking and discussion about particular people and demonstrates cases as a springboard to discuss deeper ethical issues. Access the Genetic Testing lesson plan.
Life, Death, and the Terri Schiavo Case
In 1990, Terri Schiavo suffered cardiac rest, depriving her brain of oxygen. She spent the next 15 years in a persistent vegetative state. In 2005, after a protracted legal battle, Terri was disconnected from life support and subsequently died. The question at the center of the fierce, public debate over her fate—and the question students will try to answer in this unit—is whether the decision to discontinue life support for Terri Schiavo was justified. Access the Life, Death, and the Terri Schiavo Case lesson plan.
The ethical questions raised by organ transplantation are multiple and complex. Three main issues include the fundamental morality of transplanting body parts, the ethics of organ procurement, and the ethics of allocation. Does organ transplantation involve too much manipulation of nature, and lead to scenarios of “playing God”? The technological and medical advancements associated with organ transplantation have saved the lives of many, but with more than 100,000 candidates on the waiting list in the United States, viable organs are far too scarce to meet every patient’s needs. Given the shortage, who should get the available organs, and by what criteria should this decision be made? Access the Organ Donation lesson plan.
Organ Farming and Interspecies Chimeras
This module examines the ethical issues surrounding human-animal chimeras and their use in the production of organs for transplantation. 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 waiting on the transplant list every day. This crisis has necessitated the development of new strategies to acquire organs for transplantation. Among these advances is the prospect of growing a custom organ for a recipient using chimeras, organisms made up of two genetically distinct types of cells. Access the Organ Farming and Interspecies Chimeras 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), so they can die when and where they want. As of August 2021, PAD has been legalized in more than 10 states and the District of Columbia. In 2009, Montana’s Supreme Court ruled that nothing in the state law prohibited a physician from honoring a terminally ill, mentally competent patient’s request by prescribing medication to hasten death. Subsequent attempts to codify or ban the practice have failed. It is important to note that each state’s law may present differing provisions regarding eligibility, limitations, etc. 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 later in the module, moved from California to Oregon in 2014 to request PAD (Maynard, 2014). 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 incorrigible 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 module, 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—is particularly relevant to future (undergraduate) students. Access the Psychopharmacology and the Self lesson plan.
Assisted reproduction has become more widely used as technological advancements have expanded the definition and possibility of parenting. Career-oriented women, gay and lesbian couples, single parents, and infertile couples are among those who can benefit from such procedures. With the broadening possibility of becoming a parent, should there be any restrictions, or does everyone have a fundamental 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 rising ethical questions as a result of the widespread use of assisted reproduction methods? This module provides background on some of these technologies and how they work, present some of the ethical issues that arise, and facilitate the formulation of opinions about the issues. Access the Reproductive Technology lesson plan.
Sex Selection, Genetic Analysis, and Designer Babies
Assisted reproductive technologies afford prospective parents the ability to select their child’s sex and to determine whether their prospective child will inherit a particular disease or be born with a disability. Although current technology allows only for the selection of embryos that have such traits, parents may soon be able to engineer their child’s genome so that he or she has 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 child? What about selecting against hereditary disease? What implications would genome engineering have on society? This module 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, Genetic Analysis, and Designer Babies lesson plan.
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 the 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 Stem Cell Research lesson plan.
Teens and Children in Clinical Research and Care
This module provides insight into the ethical challenges of involving children and teens in decisions about clinical research and medical care. It encourages students to think about what types of ethical issues adolescents face in medical and research contexts and how doctors, researchers, and parents and guardians consider medical ethics in specific situations. 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 module relies on current statistics as well as the analysis of theoretical situations, both of which are explained in depth so that students can follow and comprehend accordingly. Access the Teens and Children in Clinical Research and Care lesson plan.
The discovery of immunization is one of the greatest medical achievements of all time. Broad vaccination campaigns have drastically lowered the incidence of—and in some cases completely eradicated—infectious diseases that once took the lives of millions. Vaccination protects children and adults against many transmittable diseases, including measles, smallpox, mumps, whooping cough, human papillomavirus (HPV), influenza, and COVID-19. Access the Vaccine Ethics lesson plan.