News Release

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NIH Releases Innovative Approach to Exploring Bioethics in New Curriculum Supplement

Should Carl, a high school baseball player, take steroids to improve his performance and win a college scholarship?

Luke is 58 years old, Emily is 36, and Mario is just 6 months old. All have liver failure. Which one should get the liver that has become available for transplantation?

Joy refuses to be vaccinated. Should she be forced to get a vaccine? Does it matter that the reason she doesn’t want to be vaccinated is her fear of needles? Would her refusal be fairer if vaccinations were against her religious beliefs?

Now teachers will have an innovative approach for students to address these and other bioethical questions. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the global nonprofit Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), developed "Exploring Bioethics," a high school curriculum supplement. It serves as a guide for teachers to foster thoughtful classroom discussions on topical bioethical issues.

Students use four core questions that help them form well-justified positions on ethical issues and practices in biomedicine.

  • What is the ethical question?
  • What are the relevant facts?
  • Who or what will be affected by the outcome?
  • What are the relevant ethical considerations? (These could include respect for persons, harms and benefits, fairness and responsibility)

"Exploring Bioethics" covers six topics: genetic testing, the use of human subjects in research, steroid use by athletes, organ allocation for transplants, and the modification of animals for human benefit. The lessons promote problem-solving and communication skills, critical thinking, and teamwork. The curriculum supplement presents six three-day lessons in a convenient, all-in-one resource that is well organized for integration into a broader curriculum.

The NIH Office of Science Education and Department of Bioethics produced “Exploring Bioethics” in partnership with the Center for Applied Ethics and the Center for Science Education at EDC and with collaborating scientists, medical ethics experts, and educators across the nation.

The NIH curriculum supplement series — which includes 17 supplements on such topics as genetics, infectious diseases, cell biology, and the process of science — promotes inquiry-based, interdisciplinary learning. The interactive teaching units combine cutting-edge science research discoveries and real scientific data from NIH with state-of-the-art instructional materials. Educators have requested nearly 350,000 NIH curriculum supplements in the ongoing series.

The NIH curriculum supplements, available for free to educators in the United States upon request, are aimed at promoting science education achievement in grades 1 through 12. The lessons are aligned with the National Science Education Standards and with individual state education standards in science, math, health, and English language arts — showing educators how the NIH curriculum supplements will help their students meet specific learning goals.

To review and request "Exploring Bioethics" and learn about other free NIH curriculum supplements, visit the NIH Office of Science Education at

The Office of the Director, the central office at NIH, is responsible for setting policy for NIH, which includes 27 Institutes and Centers. This involves planning, managing, and coordinating the programs and activities of all NIH components. The Office of the Director also includes program offices which are responsible for stimulating specific areas of research throughout NIH. Additional information is available at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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