Search Results for “BioEdge” – The blog of the 2009 - 2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues Mon, 09 Jan 2017 23:23:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Looking Back at the Bioethics Commission’s Blog Mon, 05 Dec 2016 16:00:04 +0000 Throughout its tenure, the Bioethics Commission has maintained an active digital presence to connect with a global audience. A major component of this has been through its blog. This final blog post reflects on the role the blog has played in disseminating the Bioethics Commission’s work.first-blog

Former Bioethics Commission Executive Director Valerie Bonham launched the commission’s blog on November 15, 2010, announcing that the staff would be liveblogging during Meeting Three in Atlanta. From that meeting onward, Bioethics Commission staff continued to blog live from the Bioethics Commission’s meetings, held throughout the country in cities including Washington DC, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. Meeting posts highlighted salient points of discussion as they occurred during the public meetings. For example, during Meeting Three, a blog post outlined the members’ deliberations regarding the risks and benefits of synthetic biology. During Meeting Eighteen, which focused on ethical issues in neuroscience, a blog post highlighted some of the discussion about the ethical challenges in neuroscience research. The Bioethics Commission also used blog posts to distill complex topics that arose during meetings. During Meeting Twelve, which focused on pediatric medical countermeasure research, a blog post presented a simplified structure of some of the federal regulations concerning pediatric research.

The commission’s blog also highlighted and explained the impact of the commission’s work. For example, during the commission’s tenure, a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to revise the Common Rule—the regulations that govern the ethical conduct of federally supported human subjects research—was published in the Federal Register on September 8, 2015. Elements of the commission’s work were included in this notice. In September and October 2015, the Bioethics Commission released a series of blog posts that described some of the relevant inclusions in the NPRM, and explained their significance.

The Bioethics Commission also used the blog to share its outreach activities and initiatives with a broad readership. For example, when Bioethics Commission staff attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities in October 2015, a blog post highlighted the commission’s outreach efforts, and included answers to frequently asked questions that staff members fielded while at the conference. When the Bioethics Commission presented at the White House BRAIN conference, a blog post shared Executive Director Lisa M. Lee’s remarks. On June 8, 2016, Col. Nelson Michael gave an interview with the bioethics news site BioEdge, and the Bioethics Commission staff wrote a two-part blog post on some of the issues Col. Michael raised regarding democratic deliberation and ethics education. Blog posts were also written to describe publications in academic journals by Commission members and staff. A blog post shared a commentary written by Bioethics Commission Vice Ch
air Dr. James Wagner, who wrote about the importance of early ethics education.

During its tenure, the Bioethics Commission produced over 65 educational materials, and used the blog to picture1announce the availability of new educational materials, including user guides, primers, classroom discussion guides, and deliberative scenarios. Blog posts also helped outline how to use the educational materials. Blog posts also highlighted topics including innovations in ethics education, and the importance of civic engagement. The Bioethics Commission also used the blog to announce and promote its podcast series Ethically Sound, a 10-episode series that focuses on some of the ethical issues raised in the commission’s reports.
Readers can access previous blog posts, educational materials, the podcast series Ethically Sound, along with all of the Bioethics Commission’s reports and related materials at On behalf of the Bioethics Commission, we thank our readers for their continued interest in the work of the commission.

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Exploring Democratic Deliberation Wed, 28 Sep 2016 14:09:38 +0000 Bioethics Commission member Col. Nelson Michael was interviewed in June by BioEdge, a bioethics news site, about the Commission’s capstone report Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science and Technology. In a previous post, we discussed Col. Michael’s discussion of lifelong bioethics education. This post will focus on Col. Michael’s discussion of democratic deliberation, which the Commission recommends in its report.

Democratic deliberation is a method of decision-making that brings diverse voices to the table, and promotes mutual respect and reason-giving in order to identify areas of agreement to facilitate solutions to challenging problems. The goal of reaching consensus on a way forward distinguishes deliberation from debate, which involves participants trying to persuade others that their arguments are correct and more compelling than their fellow participants’ arguments. While participants are encouraged to use facts and reasons to support their various positions during the deliberative process, democratic deliberation is intended to be a mutually respectful process, with all participants entering the deliberation with an open mind and a willingness to consider other perspectives.

Xavier Symons, the BioEdge interviewer, asked Col. Michael about the criticism that democratic deliberation “smother[ed] substantial debate in focus groups and reports,” citing the debates and public deliberation that occurred when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the United Kingdom considered the ethical implications of transferring a healthy nucleus from a mother’s egg to a donor egg in order to avoid certain mitochondrial diseases. Col. Michael responded by noting that “the discussions were facilitated using democratic deliberation…this distinguished those conversations from the kind of debates we are more accustomed to. Democratic deliberation is not foolproof—limitations and challenges exist with every method of decision making. However…deliberation has many advantages. It provides a morally and practically defensible way for addressing hyperpartisan gridlock. It also promotes mutual respect rather than fueling the sharp polarization and heightened differences that make consensus and legitimate outcomes nearly impossible in our current context.”

The Bioethics Commission outlined steps that decision-making bodies can take to engage in democratic deliberation. Deliberation begins with an open question, for which there might be numerous possible paths forward. The Commission emphasized that it is preferable to conduct deliberations with enough time to affect policy decisions. For example, when the Commission considered whether testing an anthrax vaccine on children was ethically permissible, it did so at a time when the country was not facing an anthrax attack, which gave the Commission time to consult with experts, reflect on the empirical and moral dimensions, and make reasoned recommendations. However, the luxury of time is not always possible in emergency circumstances. The Commission encouraged public officials to anticipate as much as possible potential ethical challenges that could arise during emergency situations and address these challenges in advance, since deliberation might not be possible in the midst of a crisis. In order to fully consider the implications of the question at hand, deliberation calls for consulting experts and members of the public alike. Stakeholders from all walks of life, whether they are scholars in the field or community members and leaders, have an important perspective to contribute, and it is necessary to consider these varied perspectives to come to a solution. Participants in the deliberation are encouraged to openly discuss their various perspectives. While vigorous discussion can be a part of the deliberative process, participants must use accessible and explicit reasons to support their arguments, and must maintain a mutually respectful environment throughout the process. At the end of deliberation, participants develop a detailed plan of action that emerges from the deliberation, which includes addressing ethical duties towards those who are affected by the plan.

We have produced a series of educational materials related to democratic deliberation. The “Guide to Classroom Deliberation for Students and Teachers” introduces the deliberative process in a manner suitable for classroom environments. The Commission has also produced several deliberative scenarios that can be used as the basis for deliberation around an ethically challenging topic. The Commission has also produced “Five Steps for Effective Deliberation” in conjunction with the report Bioethics for Every Generation.

The Bioethics Commission’s educational materials and reports can be viewed and downloaded for free at The Bioethics Commission welcomes comments and feedback on its materials at

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Exploring Lifelong Bioethics Education Wed, 20 Jul 2016 12:00:21 +0000 Bioethics Commission member Col. Nelson Michael was recently interviewed by BioEdge, a bioethics news site, about the Commission’s capstone report Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science and Technology. Col. Michael discussed lifelong bioethics education, which the Commission supports in its report.

In the interview, Col. Michael said “ethics education is best when it builds on itself over time. Just as we would not expect to develop math skills in an engineer or an accountant by starting with calculus, similarly, we cannot expect to develop ethics literacy unless we build an early foundation starting with the basics.” Col. Michael’s description of ethics as a skill set is supported throughout the Commission’s report, which outlines ways in which ethics can be incorporated at all levels of education.

At the primary school level, educators can help students start to build moral values and positive character traits. This includes developing moral habits such as empathy and honesty, and encouraging students to develop a moral identity, which includes recognition of the importance of moral values to a student’s way of thinking. Though these might seem like difficult topics for young children to comprehend, ethics education initiatives have already shown that children are able to grasp these concepts through age-appropriate learning activities. An ethics program in New South Wales, Australia developed a curriculum to help K-6 students develop skills necessary for ethical decision-making with activities and examples to which children at various stages of development can relate. For example, kindergarten-age students are asked to consider what distinguishes “intentionally” hurting someone from “accidentally” hurting someone, while elementary school students are asked to consider what constitutes fair punishment.

Students at the secondary school level can continue their ethics education as they begin to solidify their own morals and values. In the report, the Commission noted that integrating ethics education at this stage is not without its challenges. As students’ curiosity and understanding of complex and controversial topics develops, educators need to be prepared to handle concerns about ethics promoting particular values. The Commission’s report outlines a variety of models that can be used to teach ethics, and emphasizes that ethics education is about preparing students how to think ethically, rather than what to think. The report also emphasizes that ethical questions and topics can be incorporated into existing courses, such as biology, chemistry, social studies or history courses.

At the post-secondary level, students transition to a college environment, where they are expected to think more critically and independently. At the undergraduate level, there are a number of avenues by which students can expand their ethics education. Ethical topics can be discussed in existing core courses, such as courses in biology, genetics, chemistry, history, philosophy and political science. Students also might have a number of extracurricular options for further exploring bioethics, such as participating in intercollegiate bioethics bowls, through which students can form teams and debate students from other schools.

As students move into graduate and professional programs, their ethical training will become more specialized, and can continue to build upon the ethical skills that students have learned throughout their life. As the report Bioethics for Every Generation notes, ethics training is sometimes required in a number of professional programs, such as nursing and public health.

Col. Michael notes in the BioEdge interview that the idea of lifelong bioethics education is “ambitious,” and it is true that integrating bioethics at all levels of education is not without its challenges. However, all of the Commission’s reports consistently emphasize the importance of incorporating ethics education at all levels of education, because everyone, regardless of their background, will encounter a bioethical challenge at some point in their life. This could involve making a difficult decision about one’s own health or the care and health of a loved one. Developing the skills needed to make difficult ethical decisions does not happen overnight, and like any other skill, requires time and practice.

The Bioethics Commission has developed a series of educational materials that can help develop ethics decision making. All materials can be downloaded for free and used by educators or interested individuals. The Bioethics Commission encourages feedback on its materials at

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