Over this autumn school term, members of our Education Advisory Group are sharing thoughts and ideas based on their own experience of how bioethics and debate can be useful in education contexts. This post is written by Chris Willmott, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and curator of the bioethicsbytes.wordpress.com site for sharing ideas about the teaching of bioethics.

“You know” says the clinician to his disappointed renal patient, “they’ll tell you that you’re all out of options, but it’s not necessarily true. This is going to sound a bit mad, but just hear me out.” The doctor then proceeds to float the possibility that the man might want to receive a pig’s kidney as part of an experimental procedure.

For several years, I have started a lecture on xenotransplantation by showing this short clip from the BBC’s medical drama Holby City. The students are then invited to think through the ethical and scientific issues raised by the proposal and to decide if, as a friend of the patient, they would advise him to participate.

Using broadcast media as a discussion starter is just one of a variety of ways in which multimedia resources can be used to enhance engagement with ethical issues. Clips from TV and films can also be used to demonstrate certain procedures or to set the scene in other ways. Sometimes the very wrongness of a clip, such as the woeful description of gene therapy in the Bond film Die Another Day, can be a good place to start.

The online availability of news footage can also be a useful tool. The BBC in particular are pledged to keep some stories on their website in perpetuity and these too could be shown to a class. However, why not take this a step further? I have used news clips of this kind as the basis for an assessed activity in which students write reflections on the ethical issues raised by the development discussed in the story. You need to make it clear that you want more than mere regurgitation of the content, but this can be done by showing them good examples of analysis by previous students. In fact, why not make the best reports available to the general public? In this way the students are bona fide producers of new resources for the benefit of others.

Alternatively, how about involving the students in production of their own films about bioethical issues? For the past seven years I have had students work in teams of about 4 to produce a 5 minute video on an ethical topic I have assigned to them. The students generally get a solid grasp of the ethical issues involved, whilst having the opportunity to exercise creativity and to develop a range of transferable skills. Again, the best videos can be shared more widely so that a larger audience can profit from their labours.

Here are some videos that tie in with existing Nuffield Council reports:

For more details information on multimedia in bioethics follow one of these links:


Use of multimedia for bioethics teaching (slides)

Use of broadcast media in teaching

Boxing clever – television as a teaching tool Times Higher Education

Evaluation of ethical dimensions of news clips as an assessed activity

Headline Bioethics: Engagement with bioethics in the news Bioscience Education 21:3-6

Student-generation of bioethics videos

Teaching bioethics via the production of student-generated videos Journal of Biological Education

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