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LIFELINE: Bioethics and Humans Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #:AELP-BIO003
Submitted by: Clark Brean, Lebanon Union H. S., Lebanon, Or.
Endorsed by: These lesson plans are the result of the work of the teachers who have attended the Columbia Education Center’s Summer Workshop. CEC is a consortium of teacher from 14 western states dedicated to improving the quality of education in the rural, western, United States, and particularly the quality of math and science Education. CEC uses Big Sky Telegraph as the hub of their telecommunications network that allows the participating teachers to stay in contact with their trainers and peers that they have met at the Workshops.
Date: May 1994

Grade Level(s): 11, 12


  • Science/Biology
  • Science/Genetics
  • Philosophy/Ethics

OVERVIEW: It is often difficult to present materials on abortion and the right-to-life issues without seeming to be espousing a specific view point or ethical belief system. In this activity, it is the students that must deal with the issue and construct their own limitations by defining the human condition. OBJECTIVE(s):

Students will be able to:
1. Define and explain each of the conditions discussed in the exercise.
2. Arrange these conditions in a logical sequence from most to least damaging.
3. Evaluate the humanity of each condition and decide where, if anywhere, abortion should be allowed and/or mandated.
4. To model the democratic decision-making process to students in a real and meaningful way.


Bergsms, Daniel Birth Defects Compendium, Second Edition The National Foundation — March of Dimes, 1982. Excellent for pictures and medical information on inheritance patterns.

Jones, Kenneth J. Smith’s Recognizable Patterns of Human Malformation, Sixth Edition W. B. Saunders Co., 1998. Excellent source of pictures and information on inheritance patterns.

McKusick, Victor A. Mendelian Inheritance in Man, Ninth Edition The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990. Technical reference on inheritance patterns.

Stine, Gerald J. The New Human Genetics Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1989. An excellent general reference.


1. The instructor selects 18 – 20 genetic conditions that run the entire gambit of the human condition, form terminal human tissue that threatens the life of the mother to OK but not desired sex of the child. Ex: For my presentation, I include information on the following conditions:   Acephaly, Club foot, Cri- du-chat syndrome, Down’s syndrome, Edward’s syndrome, Encephalocele, Huntington’s corea, Hydatidiform mole, Hydrocephalus, Muscular dystrophy, Phenylketonuria, Polydactyly, Pyloric stenosis, Sirenomelia, Spina bifida cystica, spina bifida occulta, Tay Sach’s disease, Testicular feminization and Wrong sex but OK.

2. A slide is produced to demonstrate the major characteristics of each of the conditions. Informational material for each condition is also generated by the teacher. Ex: For my presentation, I include information on the following areas: Survivability of the child, age at which the child is affected, effect of the condition on both mental and physical processes and abilities, prognosis for curing and/or helping the affected individual, and cost of maintaining and/or helping the individual.

3. The instructor also generate a worksheet that simply lists the conditions to be presented, in alphabetical order, with plenty of space following each condition for the student to take notes in.

4. Each slide is shown, the information is delivered, and students are allowed to ask questions and clarify material.

5. At the end of the slide presentation, the students must: a. Rank the conditions from most to least serious. b. Draw a line where they personally would ask for an abortion, if anywhere. c. Draw a line where they personally would allow society to abort a fetus, if anywhere.

6. Students are then put in groups of 3 – 6 and must: a. Reach agreement on ranking the conditions from most to least serious. b. Reach agreement on where society should allow abortion to occur, if anywhere. c. Reach agreement on where society should demand abortion, if anywhere. d. Pick a spokesperson for their group.

7. The spokespeople are then separated from their groups, and without consultation, must complete steps in 6 a through c. They are the elected officials and are now making the law of the land. Allow 10 – 15 minutes.

8. During this time, the instructor will discuss feelings, reactions, difficulties students had with the decision- making process, etc.

9. Have the law-makers return and present their list and cut-off points to the class.

10. Survey the class and see how comfortable the class is with the decision they reached. Can they all live within these dictates? What will they do if they cannot?