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By Lynn and Bob Gillen

Links for Learners | January 2003

"Bioethics and Faith: Sister Carol Taylor"


Finding Curriculum Connections
Understanding Basic Terms
Why Is Ethics Important?
Developing Critical Thinking Skills
Related Resources
Research Resources

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Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:

• Christian lifestyles—ethical decision-making; critical thinking skills; compassion toward those most vulnerable
• Life sciences—issues in developing technology; biological and medical ethics

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for these key words and terms as you read the article.  Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself, or from the resource materials cited throughout the Link for Learners. 


Genetic research


Human genome project


Catholic moral tradition

Ethical decisionmaking

Ethical dilemmas


Why Is Ethics Important?

A lone research scientist experiments on human subjects—Frankenstein. More scientists clone ancient dinosaur genes—Jurassic Park. A mother chooses to pull the plug on life support for her comatose daughter—Steel Magnolias. Just three examples of movie themes with bioethical issues.

These issues, and others far more complex, exist because of dramatic developments in science and technology. With change come tough questions with ethical implications. Are there justifiable reasons to withhold life-sustaining treatment from the elderly? From handicapped babies? Who is eligible for a transplanted organ? Should a habitual drug user receive priority over a mother of three children when an organ is available? Who gets vaccinated first in the event of biological warfare? Can we use tissue from an aborted fetus to treat currently incurable diseases?

For a teen, it may seem that these questions, while interesting, imply future choices. Why be concerned about them now?

First of all, ethical choices aren't reserved for adults. Any high school student faces difficult choices. What's wrong with plagiarizing material from the Internet for my book report? I need a strong GPA for my college applications—why can't I copy test answers to get better grades? I can lie to my parents about my drinking, can't I? What they don't know can't hurt them, right?

Secondly, your future ethical choices will be shaped by how you make choices now. It's no secret that many adults cheat on exams, lie on resumes and alter business data to suit their own agendas. The odds are that these adults developed the habit in high school and college.

Another consideration: Some teens are already researching and indeed creating original work in this field. For example, the annual Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science and Technology presents scholarships to teens who have done exceptional research. In 2002 two teens from William L. Dickinson High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, won the top prize in the team category for their genetic research project. Juliet Girard and Roshan Prabhu identified genes that contribute to early flowering time in rice, a discovery that could contribute to increased crop production for hungry populations.


Developing Critical Thinking Skills

What differentiates a morally mature person from a habitual cheater? Ethics. Ethics is something like a lens through which we view the world.

According to the Josephson Institute of Ethics, ethics centers on "principles that define behavior as right, good and proper." The Institute provides online at no cost a well-thought out guide to making ethical decisions. The guide is a blueprint for developing morally mature individuals, persons who are in charge of their own choices. Each of us has the power to make choices. We are each responsible for those decisions.

Bioethics (medical ethics) studies moral issues specific to the fields of medical treatment and medical research. As a discipline, medical ethics traces its roots all the way back to the ancient Greek Hippocratic Oath. Centuries later, the American Medical Association established its first professional code of ethics in 1846. The atrocities inflicted on detention camp occupants in World War II led to the more recent Nuremberg Code for research ethics on human subjects. Bioethics presently impacts multiple professional fields: medicine, law, teaching, nursing, sociology, philosophy and theology.

The Washington Association for Biomedical Research believes that "Understanding the social implications of biological knowledge and biomedical technology is an important civic responsibility."

Even at the high school level, science ethics is becoming a classroom staple. According to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, "ethics education is reshaping high school science." While some believe that values-based instruction has no place in the science curriculum, others see bioethics as a necessary component.

In the opinion of Sister Carol Taylor, the subject of this month's article, every Catholic, indeed every citizen, needs to be concerned with bioethics. All of us deal with birth, with living and with death—and modern science offers us many choices as we move through these experiences. As director of clinical ethics for Georgetown University, Sister Carol and her staff help countless patients and medical practitioners make difficult decisions.

Career professionals in health care have moral obligations to their patients' health and well-being, according to Sister Carol. A "faith-based voice," she readily acknowledges differing viewpoints. Some see health care as "a commodity to be sold." Do you view children as gifts of God and nature, she asks, or as products to be sold? How you answer the question will shape your practical decisions.

Related Resources

Accurate information is key to an informed decision. These resources can help you gather data.

· The Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. Their high school bioethics curriculum project outlines summer courses available to high school teachers.

· Georgetown University's Center for Clinical Bioethics Consult Service

· The Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics

· The National Catholic Bioethics Center

· The high school bioethics program at the University of Pennsylvania offers online help with bioethics homework.

· The Human Genome Project, a 13-year effort coordinated by the U. S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health.

· Glossary of bioethical terms.

· Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, a PBS program and a newsletter, offers a series on bioethics. First aired in 2001, transcripts of the programs are available online. The series discussed topics such as cloning, stem cell research, and reproductive bio-technology.

· Other Links for Learners on stem-cell research and cloning.

· This site's feature Cloning and Catholic Ethics.


Research Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further general reference.  Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The New American Bible

Documents of Vatican II 

The Vatican

The New York Times

The Los Angeles Times

The Chicago Tribune

The Washington Post

The Miami Herald

The Associated Press

Time Magazine



ABC News

Pathfinder—Access site to a number of online news publications

People magazine

The History Channel

The Close Up Foundation Washington, D.C.-based organization

Channel One —online resource for the school channel

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