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8.8. Bioethics education and awareness in schools in Tamil Nadu, India

- Baby Flankitt Vittabai,
Jayapaul Azariah, Darryl Macer
Contact: All India Bioethics Association.
New No. 4, 8th Lane. Indiranagar,
Chennai 600 020, India.

1. Introduction

This paper presents data on the knowledge of teachers in India of bioethical issues, which is useful to understand the real ability of teachers to introduce bioethcis there. The teachers knowledge is mixed, and may be different to the content of textbook analysis that has been previously published (Bhardwaj and Macer, 1999).

Tamil Nadu is a state in South India. It is one of the four Dravidian states of India. It has had more than 4000 years of continuous cultural history. There are isolated groups of tribal people, such as the Todas, who live in the Nilgiri hills. The great majority of inhabitants are Dravidians. Tamil is one of the oldest literary languages in India. More than 85% of the population in Tamil Nadu speak Tamil, the main language of the state. In the northern area of the state, especially around Madras, many people speak Telugu, another Dravidian language. They make up 10% of the population. The vast majority (about 80%) of the people of Tamil Nadu are Hindus. More than 15% are Christians. There are also small groups of Jains, Muslims and Parsees.

This paper is based on surveys conducted by Baby Flankitt Vittabai with the advice of Azariah and Macer. Sixty schools in five districts of Tamil Nadu (Chennai, Cimbatore, Madurai, Trichy and Tuticortin) were surveyed using the questionnaire of Macer et al. (1996). In each school about 5 teachers and 25 students were involved (total 1500 students). The full results were the topic of a Ph.D. thesis, but the following results described some of the results to make a picture of the knowledge of Indian high school students. This paper describes the teachers survey results for 25 teachers of biology from each of the 5 districts. The student results will be published elsewhere.

8.8 Table 1

2. Images of Nature and Life

The questions on nature and life asked the teachers to write down or draw a picture of the image that came into their mind from these words. The results for the Indian public and students in 1993 have been published (Macer, 1994). A Comparison on district level shows that teachers in the district of Chennai followed by Madurai, had better ideas about Nature. The response rate in Chennai was about 52% and Madurai was 44%. The response rate of teachers who were unable to express their ideas could be because of their ignorance about nature and life or they did not know how to express. This rate was marginally high in the districts of Coimbatore, Trichy and Tuticorin when compared to Chennai and Madurai.

3. Awareness of Bioethics, AIDS, Gene Therapy, Cloning and Euthanasia

8.8 Table 2 8.8 Figure 1

Teachers in Chennai and Madurai have better exposure to the above terms. However, most do not have deep understanding of these concepts to be comfortable to guide young students. Survey reveals that the knowledge of AIDS (70%) among the five districts is prevalent, as this is one of the most common issues in the current society. They seem to have a good understanding of the perils of AIDS. Euthanasia and Cloning have completely new terms (<10% awareness) which, they have not heard. Awareness of the concepts of Gene Therapy and Bioethics is a between 20 and 30%.

8.8 Table 3

4. Trust of persons in society

Teachers and Doctors are the most trusted people (32%) among the teachers. The second priority is given to the priests and ministers of religion with a support rate of 20%. The response rate of teachers who trusted information obtained from books is about 12%. Teachers showed poor response rates (4%) in their trust in political leaders and journalists. The environmental group, company representatives and mass media people (8%) influence the teachers less when compared to other categories of the peer group.

5. Need for Bioethics in Education

It is evident from the above pie chart, that 33% of the teachers felt that Bioethics is very much required in high school curriculum. Opinion of 63% of them was that Bioethics is necessary only to some extent. Only a negligible percentage of teachers (2%) teachers said that Bioethics is not needed as part of the curriculum. These results are lower than the survey of Pandian and Macer (1998).

8.8 Table 4

6. Knowledge about Cloning

A series of 5 questions on the science and ethics of cloning were asked as shown below. The support rates of teachers who favor that cloning is artificial type of reproduction is about 76% (Table 5). The teachers agree that "test-tube babies" is the best option to overcome infertility as seen from their highest response rate of 60%. Most of the teachers are vague to the question who should become the family of the cloned human. Some favor the donor of the genome (24%) and a higher percentage favored the surrogate mother (36%). However the response rate showing ignorance on this topic is found to be high (56%). Many teachers are not sure (52%) whether cloning is the best way to cure genetic diseases. They, in-fact do not support this, as it might lead to socially unethical issues. However, some responded positively (24%). The teachers are not able to decide whether the surrogate mother or genome donor should own the offering. Most of them (72%) supported that either of them have the right over the baby. All of them are very sure that cloning should be used only for medical purposes. Response rate of teachers is very high in this regard (82%).

7. Organ Transplantation

A series of 3 questions on the science and ethics of cloning were asked as shown below. Teachers are ready to come forward and help any person who needs organ transplant surgery. 64% of them are ready to donate their organs and 28% of teachers were unwilling to donate their organs quoting some religious customs as the reason (Table 6). Many teachers (48%) agree that a person who has undergone organ transplantation is prone to many diseases. However, some of them (24%) are unaware of the consequences. The rest of them (28%), disagreed saying that the person will stay healthy even after organ transplantation. 62% of the teachers were unaware whether a person who has undergone organ transplantation may become a victim of AIDS. Rest of the teachers (37.5%) are positive saying that, since the organ transplantation aids the spread of AIDS and the person who is less resistant will easily be effected by HIV. Almost everybody (82%) favored for successful marital life after organ transplant surgery.

8.8 Table 5 8.8 Table 5 Question 8.8 Table 6 8.8 Table 6 Question

8. AIDS and its Cure

The main source of awareness of AIDS, among teachers, is found to be through mass media. 83% of the teachers understood the AIDS, its spread and prevention from television, satellite channels and the radio (Table 7). 12% said that their source of knowledge about AIDS is their academic curriculum. These teachers belong to the private upper class schools, where special awareness is brought by scientific documentary telecast and lectures by specialists.

Most of the teachers (81%) feel that the lack of morality and decline of ethical living has resulted in the spread of AIDS. Indian society, as seen from this survey, treats AIDS as more of an ethical problem (72%) than a medical problem (24%).

Teachers feel that early awareness of this deadly disease is necessary for higher secondary level students, to prevent it successfully. 70% of the respondents expect the introduction of such subjects in the 8th to 12th standard classes. Some of them suggested that these subjects should be taught to those who are finishing their school studies and entering college. The rest 4% felt that it is a necessary subject in college education also. 65% of the teachers say that the friends and family members have to show love to an AIDS patient and give a lot of moral support to them. 30% of them feel that the doctors can become a better guidance to such victims of AIDS.

8.8 Table 7 8.8 Table 7 Question

9. Gene Therapy

Gene therapy, according to the survey results, is proved to be a very new technique. Most of the teachers are completely unaware that genetic disorders can be corrected by such therapies. Almost all teachers showed negative response in their knowledge in gene therapy. The questions posed to the all teachers have made them think and understand that it may be possible to treat genetic disorders by gene therapy. Eighty percent of the teachers believe that gene therapy can be used to turn genetically defective embryo into healthier ones (Table 8). Because of they were unaware of this technique, many teachers are ignorant (82%) whether it will affect the social behavior of the members of the family or the relationship in the environment where they move.

Teachers, though welcome such technique, are scared whether this advancement in the medical field will cause the infiltration of unethical problems (84%). Most of the teachers (96%) disagree with the concept of creating high-IQ-human beings through gene therapy. This may be because of the chaos that would result in the environment and also they oppose many interfering with the natural creation and trying to act like God. Teachers (76%) are, however, happy that there is now a way out to help themselves and their children from such deadly genetic diseases.

8.8 Table 8 8.8 Table 8 Question

10. Is everything is possible with Science and Technology?

55% of the teachers are sure that every thing is possible nowadays with the latest advancements in the science and technology (Table 9). 44.8% say that there are things that cannot be done by the present day science and technology available today. This is less optimistic than the general public (Macer, 1994).

8.8 Table 9

11. Environmental Pollution

64% of the teachers in Madurai district and 68% of teachers in the district of Chennai were aware of the causes of environmental pollution (Table 10, Figure 2). And 60% and 56% of them correspondingly, were able to suggest a solution to prevent such pollution. In the districts of Tuticorin and Trichy, many teachers (68% and 72%) were not aware of the causes of pollution. Main profession of the teachers in these districts is cultivation and very few industries are located. Coimbatore district had shown mixed results; 52% of the teachers were aware of the causes of pollution and 40% of them could suggest a solution. The remaining teachers (48%) were not aware of the causes of pollution.

8.8 Table 10 8.8 Figure 2


Bhardwaj, M. & Macer, D. (1999) "A comparison of bioethics in school textbooks in India and Japan", EJAIB 9: 56-9.
Macer, Darryl R.J., Bioethics for the People by the People; 460pp., ISBN 0-908897-05-7 (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, 200pp., A4, ISBN 0-908897-08-1 (Christchurch: Eubios Ethics Institute, 1996).
Pandian, C. & Macer, D. " Bioethics Education in High Schools: 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).

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