602Challenges for Bioethics from Asia
Bringing ethics to life: teaching bioethics at both the high school and college levels in China
- Baoqi Su, M.Sc. .
Center for Bioethics, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, CHINA
After I received my Master’s degree from Tsukuba University in Japan in 2002, I started my work at the Center for Bioethics, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences. After my first meeting with my students, I wished to be a good teacher. But what is a good teacher? What is a good teacher of bioethics? Can ethics be taught? What can be hoped for as the aim of my teaching? Those are questions that I always ask myself.
The primary focus of my teaching is not ethical knowledge, but doing my best to help the students develop their awareness of moral problems and dilemmas. The advances in the field of biotechnology have brought ethical issues into our lives. Genetic testing can be used to estimate the likelihood that a healthy individual with or without a family history of a certain disease might develop that disease. With the big gap between our ability to diagnose and cure genetic diseases, the effects on a person of being informed that he or she would suffer a genetic disorder can be seriously harmful. It may change their ways of thinking about themselves, and change decisions about matters such as marriage, childbearing, and other lifestyle choices.
Every attempt to do good may bring some risk. The awareness of the ethical implications should take place at the earlier stage, and before the technology has been applied to society. I would raise the concerns of students about contemporary social and ethical issues and discuss together with them. I would also stimulate the students’ sense of responsibility and commitment to improving our society. We are all affected directly or indirectly by the decisions that we made, so the decisions should be well-considered. Bioethical maturity is a concept that was introduced by Macer (1994). A bioethically mature person, or society can balance the benefits and risks of alternative options, and make well-considered decisions.
“Bioethics” could be defined as the study of ethical issues and decision-making associated with the use of living organisms. It is learning how to balance different benefits, risks, and duties. Ethical dilemmas come to everyone. For instances, should a fetus with a severe genetic disease be aborted or not? Who should know your genetic information? We can look forward to a wide range of exciting prospects that stem from science and technology, but we should use it in a responsible manner in harmony with the fundamental values of society. Citizens need to make ethical choices on how they use biotechnology and its products.
Education of bioethics is to empower people to face ethical dilemmas. Students shall be enabled to make correct, or more appropriately to say, sound decisions. However, how do we accomplish the education? When is the best time? Ethics and values play almost no role in high schools or even colleges in China. As a result, students tend to have a very narrow conception of the way in which ethics intersect with science and technology. One concern that is often raised by teachers is that national, state and local science curricula do not prescribe the inclusion of ethics in science instruction, or if any, it stands in an unimportant place.
When I studied clinical medicine at the Capital University of Medical Sciences, there was a course named “yixue lunlixue” (medical ethics). It was given during the third year study before we went to clinical practice. Its focus is to teach would be physicians and other medical professionals what behaviors is good and how to be nice to patients, but not how to face ethical dilemmas in health care and medical practice. The topics covered in the course are usually the morality of the physician-patient relationship, morality in preventive medicine, morality in clinical diagnosis and treatment, morality in different clinical branches, morality in nursing, morality in scientific research, morality in hospital administration, and so on (Nie, 2002).
. pp. 602-605 in Macer, DRJ., ed., "Challenges for Bioethics from Asia" (Eubios Ethics Institute, 2004).