Teaching about “Ethics and Risk”

Back in March 2013, a group of intrepid bioethics education enthusiasts braved the snowy conditions to battle their way through to the University of Northampton for what proved to be a stimulating day [Conflict of Interest declaration: I organised the programme, but this was no guarantee that the day would turn out to be as interesting as it was!]

As has become the pattern for these annual HEA Special Interest in Teaching Ethics to Bioscientists events, the morning was given over to a couple of presentations to bring delegates up to speed on some of the latest developments in a particular aspect of bioethics. This year, the theme was “Ethics and Risk” and we were treated to two highly informative sessions. First up, Prof Alastair Hay from Leeds led us through some examples of the use of biological and chemical weapons which emphasised the importance of actively opposing their use.

Completing the morning session, Prof Joe Perry (formerly of Rothamsted Research) talked us through some of the regulatory processes employed by the European Union and other parts of the world in regard to genetically modified organisms, especially plants. Joe’s talk was particularly informed by his work with the European Food Safety Authority.

After a sumptuous lunch, there was a danger we might all nod off. However, this was not to be the case since Alastair Hay took over again, running a workshop to model how the issues of chemical and biological weapons can be used to illustrate various sliding scales relating to ethical and unethical practice, legal to illegal, necessary to dangerous activity, unquestionable to questionable, routine to innovative.

The day finished with the traditional series of short “swapshop” presentations by delegates. Barbara Cogdell (University of Glasgow) gave a short talk on their use of presentations with peer assessment in bioethics teaching.

Following this, Lyndsey Wright (University of Leicester) introduced a set of resources for teaching about ethical aspects of epigenetics.

Finally, Merryn Ekberg shared some reflections on biorisk and bioethics. However, the slides for this presentation are currently embargoed whilst the session is being further developed for publication.