The blog of the 2009 – 2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Commission to Formally Take up Issue of Bioethics Education: Builds Growing Body of Educational Materials

At Wednesday’s public meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission), Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Commission Chair, announced that the Commission’s next topic would integrate education and deliberation.

“I am pleased to announce that we will begin work on a new project in the coming months: a report that will integrate two overarching themes of our work – education and deliberation. We will focus on their symbiotic relationship as twin pillars of public bioethics. Education is required for informed deliberation, and deliberation enhances education at all levels,” Gutmann said. “We are well positioned to make an important contribution in this area, and I look forward to working with all of you on it.”

The Bioethics Commission has noted the need for bioethics education improvement in many of its reports. A formal report with recommendations, plus continuing to develop easily accessible and free materials based on the Commission’s own analysis are efforts to help meet that need. The Commission believes that given the multidisciplinary nature of science and research, bioethics education should be available to a wide variety of disciplines at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels.

It has been almost a year since the Bioethics Commission introduced its first educational modules based on contemporary issues addressed by the Commission. Since it posted that first round Commission staff has produced more than 15 modules and primers based on five Commission reports.

The materials are free for use by educators and professionals in traditional and non-traditional settings across a variety of fields. Additional modules in the Bioethics Commission’s pipeline will add to the growing body of pedagogical materials the Bioethics Commission has developed to support bioethics education. New modules will explore topics such as vulnerable populations, compensation for research-related injury, privacy, and research design in light of contemporary biomedical and scientific challenges. Like previous modules, future materials will facilitate teaching and discussion.

Vulnerable populations in human subjects research will be addressed by drawing from Bioethics Commission reports “Ethically Impossible” STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948 and Safeguarding Children: Pediatric Medical Countermeasure Research. “Ethically Impossible” examined the ethical violations that occurred during research on sexually transmitted diseases in Guatemala in the 1940s. In Safeguarding Children, the Commission advised the U.S. government on the ethical considerations involved in evaluating and conducting pediatric research on medical countermeasures responding to a bioterrorism attack.

In addition, compensation for participants who are injured as a result of their taking part in research will be highlighted in a second set of modules using Safeguarding Children and the report Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research. In Safeguarding Children, the Commission considered the importance of compensation in the context of pediatric medical countermeasure research. In Moral Science, the Bioethics Commission assessed contemporary standards that protect participants in human subjects research, including those concerning treatment and compensation for research-related injury.

Community engagement rounds out the set of new modules and is based on New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technology. Before releasing New Directions, the Commission engaged with a wide variety of stakeholders to identify the appropriate ethical boundaries within the field of synthetic biology to maximize public benefits while minimizing harm. This module will add to an existing set of resources on community engagement from Moral Science and the report Privacy and Progress in Whole Genome Sequencing. Additional module sets on privacy and research design are also planned to accompany the Commission’s reports Privacy and Progress and Safeguarding Children.

All of the educational materials released by the Bioethics Commission are versatile and can be used in many ways to integrate bioethics into course curricula, discussions, and professional development activities. This versatility underscores the Commission’s commitment to advancing bioethics education across the academic curriculum. Each module includes background information, learning objectives, discussion questions, suggested additional readings, and practice exercises to support instructors as they develop their presentations. For examples about how one module might be used to reach different class audiences, check out our webinar: “Multidisciplinary Implementation of Bioethics Commission Education Materials.”

All Bioethics Commission educational materials are freely available at Feedback on the materials is encouraged at

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This is a space for the members and staff of the 2009 -2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to communicate with the public about the work of the commission and to discuss important issues in bioethics.

As of January 15th, 2017 this blog will no longer be updated but continues to be available as an archive of the work of the 2009-2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Learn more about the 2009 - 2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.