Bioethics Blogs

Can Teaching Ethics be “Safe”?

Though I’ve taught college level ethics classes for fifteen years, I’m still overwhelmed with feelings of both exhilaration and apprehension as I enter the classroom and face forty or more intellectually bright and highly motivated health care majors. For fifty minutes a day, three days a week, we talk about some of the most critical, complex, and controversial issues of our day: embryonic stem cell research, cloning, abortion, genetic engineering, artificial reproductive technology, and physician-assisted suicide among other topics. I try to come prepared, having spent hours and hours reading the latest journal articles and books. My notes, PowerPoint slides, and videos are in good order. I’ve developed a reasonable strategy for saying what I believe needs to be said, but I’m also ready to adjust to “the moment.” Who knows what each class period will bring? Over the years, I’ve found class prep and engagement with students to be exhilarating.

Lately, however, I’ve felt more and more apprehension as I launch the day’s discussion. In my morning ritual of skimming the headlines for “ethics in the news” items, I routinely stumble across another story of a university or professor in deep trouble for violating “safe zones” or failing to give “trigger warnings.” I’m filled with fear and trepidation as I realize that nothing in the teaching and doing of ethics is “safe.” Ethics, after all, is about what we ought to value and what we ought to do, not what we happen to value and happen to do. Consequently, our viewpoints and behaviors could be wrong and in need of adjustment.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.