Title: Bioethics education for informed citizens across cultures

Project conducted by Eubios Ethics Institute, for developing teaching materials in bioethics funded by Sasakawa Peace Foundation from April 2003 - March 2005; and July 2005 to March 2006.

Overall project coordinator

-Darryl R.J. Macer, Ph.D., Director, Eubios Ethics Institute,

Darryl R.J. Macer, Ph.D.,
Regional Advisor on Social and Human Sciences in Asia and the Pacific,
RUSHSAP, UNESCO Bangkok,
920 Sukhumwit Road,
Prakanong, Bangkok
Thailand 10110
Tel: +662 3910577 Ext. 141
Fax: +662-664-3772 Email asianbioethics@yahoo.co.nz

Page last updated on 16 November, 2005. Clear your browser cache to ensure your computer loads the latest version.


Download the resource and textbook Macer, DRJ. Ed.A Cross Cultural Introduction to Bioethics (Eubios Ethics Institute) (published January 2006).
Download the Teaching guide, references, Internet links (regularly updated)
Download the former textbook (2004) Macer, DRJ. Bioethics education for informed citizens across cultures (Eubios Ethics Institute) (published March 2004) as four document sequential files.

To the yahoo groups Bioethics Education list serve for this project
To yahoo groups Bioethics for Student debate list serve for this project

To the Japanese language home page

Teaching materials and individual chapters can be downloaded (long and shorter versions), and multiple language versions

Bioethics one topic per page can be downloaded (MS Word files)


Cooperating schools include:
Ateneo de Manila High School, Manila
Xavier High School, Manila
The Middle School Attached to Beijing Normal University, Beijing
He Ping Men Middle School, Beijing
National Taichung Second Senior High School, Taichung, Taiwan
China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan
University of Tsukuba, Japan
Christchurch College of Education, New Zealand
Various High Schools under the Church of South India
and other schools and universities in Australia, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand and Turkey. More are welcome.

Cooperating teachers should send reports on use of materials to the evaluation team.

This page is intended for use by those associated with the Bioethics Education Project, and we depend upon feedback from teachers and students to improve these chapters for all to benefit from. Also it is intended to compile teaching materials, reference materials, translations and modified versions of these materials for open global use. For a brief description see A summary in School Science Review December 2004 (pdf file). Note that the website for updated information on this network has moved to www.unescobkk.org/index.php?id=36 in Bangkok, from Tsukuba. The alternative project Internet site is http://eubios.info/betext.htm.


1. Background

The social and ethical issues raised by the use of modern biotechnology are being more widely discussed every year. Events such as the cloning of mammals have raised even wider debate on these topics, and have filled the imagination of many people across the globe (Macer and Ng, 2000). Citizens of all ages need to make ethical decisions on how they use science and technology and its products.

In 1991 Macer conducted a series of surveys on public, high school teachers and scientists throughout Japan, which found a wide range of concerns were expressed about biotechnology, as well as many hopes. In 1993 further surveys were conducted on the public and students in ten countries in the Asia/Pacific region in the International Bioethics Survey and there was universal agreement for the inclusion of more ethical and social issues associated with science and technology to be taught to students in those countries (Australia, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Thailand) (Macer, 1994).

High school teachers in five countries (Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore) were also surveyed with the International Bioethics Education Survey (Macer et al. 1996; Pandian and Macer, 1998; Macer and Ong, 1999). The results found similarly high degree of diversity of response in every country, with few country based differences in the way people respond to the issues, despite the different policies found in some of these countries to particular bioethical issues. One of the major concerns that teachers had was the lack of teaching materials that were available.

Some public concern is based on a lack of scientific knowledge, and some is based on an inability to reason and to balance risks and benefits, and relate these between alternative technology. There are also justified concerns about the way society is changing and what are cultural limits to technology. Education is vital to address the concerns people have about ethical or social impacts of biotechnology, and to develop more informed debate.

Research has shown that school students can reason about bioethical dilemmas (Macer et al., 1997), and it has an advantage that almost all citizens attend school. There are also some arguments from educational psychology that persons develop important moral processes in their teenage years, so that university level education may be too late in many persons to have a major impact on the thought processes that the person will have through their whole life. School education also stimulates public education as students discuss with their families. A further reason for targeting school level education is that school students are more likely to follow texts that university level students, which can mean greater impact of teaching material. In fact, already in high school texts in India and Japan, which have been surveyed, there are some important concepts in environmental and medical ethics that are discussed, however students are seldom challenged to consider how to approach the moral dilemmas that technologies pose (Bhardwaj and Macer, 1999). Evidence for moral education suggests that bioethical reasoning of people is enhanced by active consideration of bioethics dilemmas (Macer et al., 1996; Macer, 2002).

Public education is intertwined to media discussion of bioethics issues, but school education has the advantage that it can be taught in more depth, and more independently, than media coverage. However, in actual practice many teachers use media cuttings or videos as their source of material to teach about bioethics issues. Macer formed and coordinates a bioethics education network around Japan of 100 high school teachers, which are involved in biology education, and have been measuring the effectiveness of different styles of teaching since 1996 (Asada and Macer, 1998).

While university level education of bioethics can be effective for professional education, such as medical students, of scientists, few countries in Asia have classes on bioethics for these professionals also. Despite a decade of attention, there has not been great progress in Japan or Asia on the inclusion of bioethics in science and technology debates (Macer, 1992). It is also desirable to introduce more materials into university level, and in addition these studies can aid strategies for widening informed public debate and developing the quality of public discussion. Therefore it will be useful for some of the teaching materials used in high school level to be tested in university classes as well.

Following discussions with Dr. Mihaela Serbulea of SPF and in line with the framework document we submitted this application under the Bioethics Education theme to SPF. We believed this multicultural project is consistent with the values of SPF towards the coexistence of pluralistic values, and to improve society. Interactive bioethics discussion has been shown to develop an understanding of different people's views (Maekawa and Macer, 2001). We believe we will enact an active research project, that will not only find out whether different people share the same views of the challenges of science, by analysis of the comments people make in response to case studies, but can also be expected to contribute to greater decision making for the people involved in the future.

2. Objective

This project will aim to produce teaching materials for bioethics education in different countries. This will include a textbook that could be used in school and university classes to teach about bioethical issues. One type of classes it can be used in is English (or foreign language) classes, but it will not be limited to any one particular field nor inseparably tied to efforts that attempt to push inclusion of bioethics into government-set school curriculum. The material will also assess the possible criteria that could be used to measure the success of bioethics education, and the effectiveness of different forms of education for making mature citizens.

3. Project methodology

The question of what cases to include in the teaching materials/text book is best addressed by including a variety of at least 20 cases so that teachers can select some which they feel most comfortable to teach, and/or judge to be most useful for the students in the class. We welcome feedback on the cases, which would include a basic reading and illustrations, followed by about ten questions to guide the thinking processes. Some of the issues are controversial, but a balanced approach to these issues is needed, as education should prepare citizens for difficult moral dilemmas that they may face in their life. We are seeking authors to help write the documents as summarized in Table 1: Example chapters and contributors for the chapters

. In general they are 1000-2000 words, and include extra notes for teachers and questions for students.

We plan to start testing the chapters in high schools and some undergraduate university classes from July. Two versions of the chapters will be available, one for advanced level and another short version.


Several complementary components will be included in this project.

1. Development of a model textbook for school education including approximately 40 cases on bioethical issues, with questions. Each case will be designed for 15 year old student level or higher, minimum of one hour of class time per case. The choice of the extra topics beyond those listed above will be made by consultation within the group. The cases will also introduce the students to cross-cultural perspectives on these issues, not just the culture of ethnicity but also the culture of technophiles and technophobes.

2. Cooperation with teachers in a range of subjects in different schools is ongoing. These trials will be used to test the impact of the textbooks (and other teaching materials) on the student's decision making when faced with bioethical dilemmas in written survey questions before and after the use of the bioethics cases. While the primary focus will be on high school level classes, some tests will be made on undergraduate university students as well, for comparisons.

3. Cooperation to test teaching materials in different countries led to revision of the materials. 4. Based on the results of the initial survey results, in the following years cases will be improved to increase the range of ideas that the students express. The first criteria to be assessed will be bioethical maturity, and diversity of ideas. Another measure will be the use of reasoned approaches to making decisions, combining data with concepts (see below).

5. Model textbooks and resource books have been be produced, which are openly available on the Internet (links above). Publishers will be sought to make hard copies.

6. Based on the results of the studies, reports will be presented to the relevant education authorities, providing suggestions on the way that bioethics education might be more broadly introduced. The approach will not attempt to interfere with educational authorities syllabuses and curriculums, but in fact a number of countries have recognized the general goals of educating students to better face the ethical and social issues relating to the use of science and technology, but lack practical measures to achieve these ideals. If the program is successful then the school curriculum may decide they should allocate more time to these issues, but for the purpose of these trials we will use the flexibility already in the curriculum if an approach is based on teaching in a range of subjects.

7. In order to aid the understanding of all involved (students, teachers and general public), updates will be made to the Draft Bioethics Dictionary that is on-line on Eubios Ethics Institute Site. Resources such as this will be of general educational value in promoting societal bioethics education. They will be distributed to participating schools as reference materials for students who want to obtain further information, both during and outside of class time.

4. Evaluation Criteria

One of the most difficult questions in bioethics education is how to assess the criteria of success. One concept that has been used by Macer is "Bioethical maturity", which means the ability to balance the benefits and risks of moral dilemmas. To assess this we can count the number of ideas for a benefit or risk that people have to make a preliminary mental map (Macer, 2002). It also examines how many different ideas people have, and the way they can understand others views. Another measure is the way people use ethical principles in making moral decisions, which is assessed by looking for key words and concepts in the answers the students make to questions.

Part of the study will be to study which criteria are most suitable, and how the different criteria can be examined. For example, we have used discourse analysis and other keyword based analysis to examine university student bioethics homework reports. The academic literature and teaching community does not have consensus on the best criteria to measure, nor even on the desirable goals of bioethics education. Some teachers think to teach students to respect life is important, while others think practical decision making and a balanced view is more of a goal. We aim to provide a material that can be used for both.

5. International collaboration

Darryl Macer is director of the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) Bioethics Program, was a founding member of the UNESCO Bioethics Committee, is a member of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) Ethics Committee, the Board of the International Association of Bioethics, the Japan Association of Bioethics Education Committee, and is also coordinator of the International Association of Bioethics Genetics Network. This project will involve international collaboration. It is planned to share the results (in progress and at the end) with numerous other academics and ministries in other countries (in direct mailing and through the open access Internet site of Eubios Ethics Institute).

The design, writing and testing of the model textbooks and associated teaching materials, includes collaboration with a number of persons as listed in the textbook.

6. Invitation to Join

We invite more persons to be involved in the writing stage, and especially in contacting high school teachers in different countries for testing chapters in classes. Please provide the names of teachers and institutions, the type of class (e.g. Biology), the subjects that are of most interest (or "Everything"), the years of the class (and age of students) and number of students.

8. References (These are on-line at Eubios Ethics Institute web site)

Asada, Y., Akiyama, S., Tsuzuki, M., Macer, N.Y. & Macer, D.R.J. (1996) "High school teaching of bioethics in New Zealand, Australia, and Japan", Journal of Moral Education 25, 401-420.

Asada, Y. & Macer, D.R.J. (1998) "High school bioethics education network in Japan", pp. 152-166 in Bioethics in Asia, N. Fujiki & D.R.J. Macer, eds. (Eubios Ethics Institute, 1998).

Bhardwaj, M. & Macer, D. (1999) "A comparison of bioethics in school textbooks in India and Japan", Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 9: 56-9.

Macer, Darryl (1992) "The far east of biological ethics", Nature 359, 770.

Macer, Darryl R.J., Bioethics for the People by the People (Christchurch: Eubios Ethics Institute, 1994).

Macer, D.R.J., Asada, Y., Tsuzuki, M., Akiyama, S., & Macer, N.Y. Bioethics in high schools in Australia, New Zealand and Japan, (Christchurch: Eubios Ethics Institute, 1996).

Macer, D. & Chin Choon Ong, C.C. (1999) "Bioethics education among Singapore high school science teachers", Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 9: 138-144

Macer, D. & Ng, MC. (2000) "Changing attitudes to biotechnology in Japan", Nature Biotechnology 18: 945-7.

Macer, D.R.J. (2002) "Finite or Infinite Mind?: A Proposal for an Integrative Mental Mapping Project", Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 12:203-6.

Maekawa, F. & Macer, D. (2001) "Interactive bioethics in a focus group on life and biotechnology in Japan", Law and the Human Genome Review 15: 173-201.

Pandian, C. & Macer, DRJ. "An Investigation in Tamil Nadu with Comparisons to Australia, Japan and New Zealand", pp 390-400 in Azariah J., Azariah H., & Macer DRJ., eds., Bioethics in India (Eubios Ethics Institute 1998).


Bioethics teaching network in Japan (in Japanese)

To UNESCO/IUBS/EUBIOS Bioethics Dictionary Edition 1.2 (1.1 Mb file)

To Eubios Ethics Institute