The blog of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Exploring Lifelong Bioethics Education

Bioethics Commission member Col. Nelson Michael was recently interviewed by BioEdge, a bioethics news site, about the Commission’s capstone report Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science and Technology. Col. Michael discussed lifelong bioethics education, which the Commission supports in its report.

In the interview, Col. Michael said “ethics education is best when it builds on itself over time. Just as we would not expect to develop math skills in an engineer or an accountant by starting with calculus, similarly, we cannot expect to develop ethics literacy unless we build an early foundation starting with the basics.” Col. Michael’s description of ethics as a skill set is supported throughout the Commission’s report, which outlines ways in which ethics can be incorporated at all levels of education.

At the primary school level, educators can help students start to build moral values and positive character traits. This includes developing moral habits such as empathy and honesty, and encouraging students to develop a moral identity, which includes recognition of the importance of moral values to a student’s way of thinking. Though these might seem like difficult topics for young children to comprehend, ethics education initiatives have already shown that children are able to grasp these concepts through age-appropriate learning activities. An ethics program in New South Wales, Australia developed a curriculum to help K-6 students develop skills necessary for ethical decision-making with activities and examples to which children at various stages of development can relate. For example, kindergarten-age students are asked to consider what distinguishes “intentionally” hurting someone from “accidentally” hurting someone, while elementary school students are asked to consider what constitutes fair punishment.

Students at the secondary school level can continue their ethics education as they begin to solidify their own morals and values. In the report, the Commission noted that integrating ethics education at this stage is not without its challenges. As students’ curiosity and understanding of complex and controversial topics develops, educators need to be prepared to handle concerns about ethics promoting particular values. The Commission’s report outlines a variety of models that can be used to teach ethics, and emphasizes that ethics education is about preparing students how to think ethically, rather than what to think. The report also emphasizes that ethical questions and topics can be incorporated into existing courses, such as biology, chemistry, social studies or history courses.

At the post-secondary level, students transition to a college environment, where they are expected to think more critically and independently. At the undergraduate level, there are a number of avenues by which students can expand their ethics education. Ethical topics can be discussed in existing core courses, such as courses in biology, genetics, chemistry, history, philosophy and political science. Students also might have a number of extracurricular options for further exploring bioethics, such as participating in intercollegiate bioethics bowls, through which students can form teams and debate students from other schools.

As students move into graduate and professional programs, their ethical training will become more specialized, and can continue to build upon the ethical skills that students have learned throughout their life. As the report Bioethics for Every Generation notes, ethics training is sometimes required in a number of professional programs, such as nursing and public health.

Col. Michael notes in the BioEdge interview that the idea of lifelong bioethics education is “ambitious,” and it is true that integrating bioethics at all levels of education is not without its challenges. However, all of the Commission’s reports consistently emphasize the importance of incorporating ethics education at all levels of education, because everyone, regardless of their background, will encounter a bioethical challenge at some point in their life. This could involve making a difficult decision about one’s own health or the care and health of a loved one. Developing the skills needed to make difficult ethical decisions does not happen overnight, and like any other skill, requires time and practice.

The Bioethics Commission has developed a series of educational materials that can help develop ethics decision making. All materials can be downloaded for free and used by educators or interested individuals. The Bioethics Commission encourages feedback on its materials at

Share this article

Bioethics really is For Every Generation: Vice Chair publishes editorial on K-12 Education

James Wagner, Vice Chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission), recently published a commentary in Education Week. In this piece on the Bioethics Commission’s tenth report, Bioethics for Every Generation, Dr. Wagner notes that early ethics education:

“prepare[s] students for the road ahead. Each of us will face crucial bioethical decisions in our lives—how to make difficult treatment choices when diagnosed with an illness, how best to care for a sick or elderly loved one, or whether to adopt new cutting-edge technologies to detect a genetic disorder or attack a neurological disease. Ethics education can help prepare us to tackle these tough questions.”

The Bioethics Commission’s report delineates how ethics education can be tailored for different educational levels and life stages (see Fig. 4, adapted from Bioethics for Every Generation, p. Wagner K2 Companion Blog Adapted Figure 4 Cleared 7.12.16 69). Dr. Wagner highlighted key ways to integrate bioethics education at the primary and secondary levels. The Bioethics Commission’s recommendations at these levels included:

  • Recommendation 4: Implement Foundational Board-Based Ethics Education at all Levels: Educators at all levels, from preschool to postsecondary and professional schools, should integrate ethics education across the curriculum to prepare students for engaging with morally complex questions in a diverse range of subjects. Ethics education should include attention to both the development of moral character and virtue as well as the cultivation of ethical reasoning and decision-making skills that can be deployed in a bioethics context. Methods of ethics education should be evidence-based and grounded in best practices.
  • Recommendation 6: Support Opportunities for Teacher Training in Bioethics Education: Education policymakers, teacher training programs, and other funders should support development of teacher training in ethics education to prepare teachers of all subjects to facilitate constructive bioethical conversations in their classrooms. Teacher training programs should anticipate existing educational inequities and provide teachers and students with equitable access to ethics education, with an aim of preparing all students for the bioethical questions that might arise during the course of their lives.

As Dr. Wagner concludes, Bioethics for Every Generation ties together educational recommendations the Bioethics Commission has made over its tenure: “When we strengthen ethics education for future scientists and clinicians and for every member the public, we will be better equipped to move forward as individuals and as a nation. Our hope is that every generation can “do better” as we face the dynamic future of that awaits us.”

For more information on the Bioethics Commission’s educational materials that accompany their reports, please explore our education page:

Share this article

Introducing the Bioethics Commission’s New Educational Module: Community Engagement in Ethics and Ebola

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has released a new module titled “Community engagement in Ethics and Ebola.” This module is designed to introduce the role and demonstrate the importance of community engagement in public health preparedness. The module builds on the work our most recent report, Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science and Technology and the report Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response.

The module, part of a series on community engagement, helps students, professionals, and interested individuals learn how community engagement can impact public health efforts, particularly during public health emergencies. The module includes the Bioethics Commission’s recommendations on community engagement related to domestic and international research, the collecting and sharing of biospecimens, and public health communication. The module includes questions and topics for discussion, as well as learning exercises that engage with real-life ethical scenarios.

This module begins by introducing community engagement. Community engagement modules are also available based on our work on synthetic biology, human subjects research protections, and large-scale genomic sequencing. We also have module series on compensation in research, informed consent, privacy, research design, and vulnerable populations, as these topics have been discussed throughout our reports. All modules are available for free download, and can be combined to create a course or incorporated into existing curricula as instructors or curriculum facilitators see fit.

Please stay tuned for information about forthcoming educational materials, including a series of educational materials about science hype in the media involving neuroscience, public health, and biotechnology.

All Bioethics Commission educational materials are free and available at The Bioethics Commission encourages feedback on its materials at

Share this article

Introducing the Bioethics Commission’s User Guide for Medical Educators

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has released a new user guide, designed to help medical educators find useful pedagogical materials related to the Bioethics Commission’s work. The user guide builds on the work our most recent report, Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science and Technology.

The user guide provides an overview of the Bioethics Commission’s educational materials that can be used by educators in health professions, including medicine, nursing, and allied health. The guide also explains the application and relevance of these materials to students who are pursuing careers in these disciplines. The user guide directs medical educators to the Bioethics Commission’s materials that can be incorporated into the curricula of courses that discuss incidental findings, community engagement, clinical research, genetics, neuroscience, public health, and biotechnology.

This guide is one in a series of user guides that have been designed for use by professionals and educators in a variety of disciplines, including public health, law, and public policy. User guides are also available for high school and science educators. Though the user guides are designed with a particular audience in mind, they, along with all of the Bioethics Commission’s educational materials, can be used by anyone in any area of study.

The Bioethics Commission will be releasing new educational materials in the near future. Please stay tuned for more information about educational materials relating to science hype in the media and a community engagement module associated with the Commission’s report Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response.

All Bioethics Commission educational materials are free and available at The Bioethics Commission encourages feedback on its materials at

Share this article

Introducing New Educational Materials from the Bioethics Commission on Classroom Deliberation

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has released a set of new educational materials focused on classroom deliberation at the secondary and undergraduate levels. This set of deliberative training materials builds on the work of the Bioethics Commission in its report Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology.

The new materials include a “Guide to Classroom Deliberation for Students and Teachers,” a “Deliberative Scenario” and “Teacher Companion” on “The Use of Prescription Stimulants for Enhanced Academic Performance,” and a “Deliberative Scenario” and “Teacher Companion” on “Law Enforcement Access to a University’s Genetic Database.” The guide for students and teachers provides a three-phase approach for conducting a democratic deliberation in the classroom setting, and includes recommended readings to aid students in preparing for a deliberation. The scenarios outline two ethically challenging situations that students and teachers can use as the basis of a deliberation, and provide suggestions for supplemental reading. The companions provide teachers with specific instructions for facilitating each deliberation, provide suggestions for expanding or redirecting each deliberation in a variety of situations, and include additional readings that can be assigned to students based on their role in the deliberation.

This set of materials is designed to introduce students and teachers to the process of democratic deliberation, as well as to highlight the educational benefits that deliberation can have in broadening students’ ethics education. These deliberative scenarios, similar to the Bioethics Commission’s other topic-based educational modules, are based on contemporary ethical questions on topics that have been addressed by the Commission, and are designed to provide students and instructors with the means to enhance, encourage, and enrich interdisciplinary ethics education.

All Bioethics Commission educational materials are free and available at The Bioethics Commission encourages feedback on its materials at

Share this article

Bioethics Commission’s New Recommendations Bolster Ethics Education

The Bioethics Commission has encouraged and supported bioethics education throughout its projects and activities. Our educational materials, related to our reports, are tailored reach a variety of audiences. As the Bioethics Commission nears the end of its tenure, the capstone report Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology ties together these educational efforts. Among its eight recommendations, Bioethics for Every Generation included three that focus on improving bioethics education going forward.

First, early ethics education should build a foundation of ethical reasoning, literacy, and character formation. A solid basis in ethics will help children grapple with ethical choices far beyond the traditional classroom, such as how to be loyal to a friend or when, if ever, to break a promise. Those who develop curricula for ethics education should use evidence about childhood and adolescent moral development to inform their instruction, selecting questions and topics that are age-appropriate.

Second, in secondary school and higher education, bioethics education should become more targeted, and prepare students for particular ethical challenges that arise in health, science, technology, and engineering. Professionals should explore ethical questions alongside the technical dimensions of their fields, as critical reasoning skills and moral sensitivity help professionals grapple with the distinct ethical dimensions of their work.

Third, teachers and educational administrators need support, including professional development, to provide effective bioethics ethics education. Such efforts are likely to encounter understandable, but surmountable, obstacles. Among these include a hesitancy to engage students in questions of values, especially in matters that are likely to produce disagreement. Professional development can prepare instructors to overcome such obstacles. For example, training can prepare teachers to enlist support and address concerns of administrators and parents and demonstrate how ethics education is rooted in respect, does not seek to indoctrinate students, and cultivates critical thinking.

To assist educators in understanding the intersection of bioethics education and deliberation, Bioethics for Every Generation has an accompanying suite of educational materials, including deliberative scenarios that provide teachers and students with information on how to model deliberation in the classroom. All Bioethics Commission educational materials are free and available at The Bioethics Commission encourages feedback on its materials at

Bioethics for Every Generation and all other Bioethics Commission reports are free and available at

Share this article

Democratic Deliberation in Bioethics for Every Generation

On May 12, 2016 the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) issued its tenth report Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology. In the first section, the report addresses how a pluralistic, democratic society can make policy decisions about complex topics in the realm of bioethics—which involves deeply held values regarding health, bodies, identities, and life and death—using democratic deliberation.

In an era in which complex topics often become mired in polarized debate, the Bioethics Commission’s recommendations for democratic deliberation provide a method for constructive public engagement. Democratic deliberation, characterized by mutual respect and reason-giving, offers a way to find acceptable solutions to complex policy challenges in bioethics. During its tenure, the Bioethics Commission has demonstrated the effectiveness of democratic deliberation by using this method to analyze and make policy recommendations about a variety of challenging bioethical topics.

Three of the eight recommendations that the Bioethics Commission made in Bioethics for Every Generation are about democratic deliberation. First, the Commission recommended that stakeholders in the democratic process inform bioethics policy decisions with democratic deliberation. Examples of stakeholders include government officials, health plans, researchers, and members of the public who are trying to set policies about health, science, and technology with important ethical dimensions. Democratic deliberation can promote understanding, mutual respect, and greater legitimacy for the resulting policy outcomes, even when the issues under discussion seem intractable at the outset.

Second, the Bioethics Commission recommended that organizers of deliberative activities conduct deliberative activities in ways conducive to mutual respect and reason-giving among participants in accordance with best practices. Reason-giving, a central tenet of deliberative practice, entails providing reasons that are accessible to all parties and using facts that are acknowledged by others. In addition, the Commission recommended that organizers design the deliberations to influence policy decisions. For example, if organizers anticipate a policy decision on a topic, they could convene deliberations about that topic and present the results to inform involved policymakers. Empirical research on deliberative activities should guide organizers as they design further parameters and principles of deliberative activities.

Third, the Bioethics Commission recommended that scholars and organizers of democratic deliberation conduct additional research on the effectiveness of deliberative methods to further the practical contribution of deliberation in bioethics. Empirical research serves as an evidence base on which to ground deliberative activities. Further research that evaluates different deliberative processes and outcomes will strengthen this foundation. Such research will require careful consideration of what constitutes success.

These three recommendations work to strengthen the value, process, and empirical foundations of democratic deliberation. Together, they encapsulate the Bioethics Commission’s commitment to democratic deliberation as the most effective way to solve complex problems in bioethics.

Bioethics for Every Generation and all other Bioethics Commission reports are free and available at

Share this article

Bioethics Commission Recommends Deliberation and Education to Facilitate Civic Engagement with Pressing Bioethical Concerns

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) recently released Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology . In Bioethics for Every Generation, the Bioethics Commission addresses how bioethics education and democratic deliberation are mutually reinforcing functions that create a virtuous circle that leads to productive civic engagement.

Educators and policymakers should implement bioethics education and deliberative activities to promote values essential to an engaged and civic-minded population. Through its focus on engagement with values and analytical reasoning, ethics education prepares members of communities to discuss not only their individual perspectives and values, but also those of others in the community. In turn, engagement with topics and issues that affect a community can lead to a better understanding of our own values. Civic involvement helps us focus on the kinds of communities we want to create, and on our own ability to contribute through collaborative problem solving. Ethics education and democratic deliberation are mutually reinforcing—in other words, ethics education prepares us to deliberate, and deliberation helps us clarify values and develop a way forward. In this report, the Bioethics Commission recommends that educators and organizers of deliberative activities use deliberation and education when engaging with the ethical dimensions of developments in health, science, and technology.

The Bioethics Commission outlines several examples of how deliberation can enhance education, including various deliberative classroom activities. Additionally, the Commission highlights the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, which teaches college students how to engage in ethical reasoning by deliberating in teams about specific cases, including topics in bioethics.

The Bioethics Commission also addresses the important role bioethics advisory commissions play in supporting public bioethics education and engaging in deliberation. Specifically, the Bioethics Commission recommends that future bodies continue to explore, reimagine, and reinvigorate their role in education and democracy, and that they encourage discourse and civic involvement in developing health, science, and technology policy.

This Bioethics Commission has implemented deliberative practices, and made significant contributions to bioethics education, including the development of educational tools that range in scope and format, are intended for many audiences, and are available for free on .


Bioethics for Every Generation and all other Bioethics Commission reports are free and available at .

Share this article

New Bioethics Commission Report Lays Out Roadmap for Tackling Tough Ethical Questions

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) today released, Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology. This tenth report sets forth a series of recommendations for how to tackle the most pressing ethical questions that confront our nation, and ensure everyone in our society is equipped to address ethical dilemmas that arise in everyday life.

The report marks the culmination of the Bioethics Commission’s work over the last eight years and draws on its experience using democratic deliberation to advise the President on complicated ethical issues in health, science, and technology.

The field of bioethics is often called upon to resolve seemingly intractable ethical conflicts and challenges. This Bioethics Commission has tackled challenges that face us all as individuals, professionals, family members, and members of society in an increasingly interconnected world.

To help national advisory bodies as well as smaller, community-level organizations such as schools, churches, hospitals, and universities, approach issues that have no clear right or wrong answer, the Bioethics Commission has outlined five key steps in the process of democratic deliberation:

  1. Begin with an open question and consider distinct points of view
  2. Time the deliberation for maximum impact
  3. Invite input from experts and the public
  4. Foster open discussion and debate
  5. Develop detailed, actionable recommendations

Emphasizing the important role that education plays–across the lifespan–in preparing individuals with the skills they need to navigate complex challenges, the Bioethics Commission calls on educators, from primary school through professional training and beyond, to incorporate ethics education into their curricula.

The report highlights educational programs and classroom activities from across the country and abroad, such as The Ethics Bowl, that teach students how to share their views and engage in thoughtful and respectful deliberation of a solution. The Bioethics Commission also provides recommendations to ensure teachers are trained to effectively deliver ethics education.

As the Bioethics Commission looks to the future and considers the role of national bioethics advisory bodies, it underscores the important functions of supporting public bioethics education and engaging in deliberation, and their symbiotic relationship. Deliberation and ethics education work together: education is required for informed deliberation about complex bioethical issues, and deliberation results in a deeper understanding of ethical dimensions of difficult problems.

Read full report:

Share this article

Roundtable Discussion: Bioethics Advisory Bodies Past, Present, and Future

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) closed its reflections on the impact of national bioethics advisory bodies with a roundtable discussion involving Commission members and the day’s presenters.

Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Chair of the Bioethics Commission, began the session by asking each panelist to articulate an important takeaway from the previous discussions about what the future holds for bioethics advisory bodies. She invited panelists and members to reflect upon what they would recommend to the next bioethics commission, in terms of either topic selection or structure/function.

Highlights from the discussion include:

Jason L. Schwartz, Ph.D., M.B.E., Assistant Professor of Health Policy and the History of Medicine at Yale University School of Public Health, talked about continuity between commissions, and how retaining their names might ensure a smoother transition and better continuity between administrations.

Nandini Kumar M.B.B.S., D.C.P., M.H.SC., Dr. TMA Pai Endowment Chair at Manipal University in India, emphasized the importance of including a member fluent in issues of international research, especially taking place in developing countries.

Tom L. Beauchamp, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy and Senior Research Scholar at Georgetown University’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics, discussed the role of philosophy and philosophers in the conversations of bioethics advisory bodies.

Ruth Faden, Ph.D., M.P.H., Andreas C. Dracopoulos Director and Philip Franklin Wagley Professor at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics stressed that human rights and health should be emphasized by future bioethics commissions, as opposed to emerging technologies. She also referred to accountability and the importance of signaling independence and authority, helping to ensure that the government responds to recommendations by commissions.

Manuel Ruiz De Chávez, M.D., M.S., F.R.C.P. President of the Mexico National Commission of Bioethics (CONBIOÉTICA) focused on the importance of international cooperation between bioethics bodies.

Patricia King, J.D., Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law, Medicine, Ethics, and Public Policy at Georgetown Law said applied ethicists play a critical role in the discussions at this level, and emphasized the importance of passing on some of the institutional knowledge gained by this Bioethics Commission to the next one.

The next meeting of the Bioethics Commission, which continues this discussion, is scheduled for August 31 in Philadelphia, PA. For details, go to

Share this article


This is a space for the members and staff of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to communicate with the public about the work of the commission and to discuss important issues in bioethics.

Learn more about the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.


You can receive updates about our blog via email subscription, RSS feed, or follow the Bioethics Commission on Twitter.