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Bioethics, Informed Consent, and Open Networks: The Story of Bioethics Day

Bioethics, Informed Consent, and Open Networks: The Story of Bioethics Day

Written by Jennifer Smyth
August 10, 2013

Last fall, inspired by our reading of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in Biology and English, my students put on a “day of learning” for students from two other high schools, in addition to our own. We called it “Bioethics Day.”

The impetus behind Bioethics Day was pretty simple: we had read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks with sophomores the year before, but the Biology teacher and I wanted to do something more with it; we wanted to ask students to create something bigger with it. We asked ourselves “What is the coolest thing we (teachers and students) could possibly do with this book?” One Friday afternoon, in conversation with a colleague from a neighboring school system, we came up with the idea of a mini-conference, in which students would have opportunities to participate in labs, seminar discussions, and a variety of other activities. Ideally, we would have guest speakers, and we wanted to turn the event into an opportunity for students to network with their peers from neighboring schools, both within our system and neighboring systems.

We knew informed consent would be a big issue, as it is in the case of HeLa cells, and we wanted to link to other cases related to this issue, including our own state’s history of forced sterilization. Our students don’t have access to a lot of lab equipment, so we wanted to borrow microscopes from the community college so that students would have an opportunity to look at their own cells. Most of all, we wanted students to have an opportunity to plan and facilitate as much of the event as possible. We sketched out a rough outline in about ten minutes, and began working on implementation with students the following Monday.

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