Creating a course on ethics in the biological sciences

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Abstract

The authors examine the social and scientific context within which a course on the ethical dimensions of the biological sciences was created in the mid-1980s to instruct students at The University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center's Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. They discuss how the basic purposes of such a course–to help students resolve ethical issues encountered in the scientific work, examine the values underlying science, and explore its relation and obligations to society–may be accomplished, and describe the salience to scientific work of two ethical values significant for science, truthfulness and benefit to others, to demonstrate the application of ethics to science. The present version of the course is described. Particular issues arising in the construction of a course on ethics and science are described, such as gaining faculty support, selecting instructors, constructing a syllabus of topics, using cases in instruction, creating examinations dealing with students from other cultures who may have difficulty with applying and using American values, and evaluating the educational effort.

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