Mr. Moore's Cells and the Question of Property Rights

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SWBAT to explore and discuss the ethical issues surrounding tissue research and patient rights.

Big Idea

Dig into history using real court case information, role play, and debate to get your students interested in the ways that science research and society continue to clash with and complement each other!

Notes for the Teacher

This ilesson is one I worked into our curriculum to introduce students to the field of bioethics and how science is related to our social and legal institutions.  I have enjoyed using the actual California Supreme Court case documents related to Mr. Moore, Dr. Golde, and the Mo cell line and students have commented that they were interested in the fact that although it is an older case, it was tried in our state of California and involves a local university, UCLA.  In previous years, some classes have initiated a writing campaign to the UC Regents to discuss their thoughts after working with this case.  

I could easily see this discussion and activity stemming from or branching out to the more recent book by Rebecca Skloot concerning Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell line entitled The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  In fact, the book mentions the Golde/Moore case in terms of similar concerns about property and commercial rights of human tissue.  I did not choose to do that in class this year because I didn't have the budget to buy the books for students to read together as a class and I felt that working with primary documents such as the court transcripts was an important part of the student experience, both in terms of CCSS standards and overall student interest.  By starting with this landmark case, we also set up an opportunity for further investigation into the subject since then either by the class as a whole or by individual students later in the year.  However, the interest in this topic was so high that I included an additional extension activity focusing on Skloot's book about Ms. Lacks and you can see some of my student's work on this related story below as well.

Bioethics cases are a great way to connect our science curriculum to social studies, history, social justice, and civil liberties.  Students feel passionately about fairness and equity issues and this topic is one that resonates with them as soon-to-be-voting young adults.  They also provide an opportunity to work in practice with our current speaking and listening, reading, and writing standards in a way that feels relevant to students and their lives.  

The Classroom Flow: Introducing Bioethics

10 minutes

1.  Write the following prompts on the board and ask students to discuss briefly within their lab groups:

What does the term ethics mean to you?

What do all of these things have in common: right to die, surrogacy contracts and other reproductive technologies, payment for organs.

  • Note: Feel free to add any current bioethics topic of interest to your students to this list.

2.  Use the spokesperson protocol to share out the thoughts of the group.  Students will be able to give a definition of ethics and may be familiar with some of the topics on your list.  They will be able to see that what they have in common is controversy and strong differences in public opinion about the right way to handle them as a society/country.

3.  Tell students that all of these issues and more fall within the realm of bioethics.  Define the terms bioethics on the board and share with the class that today, you will be discussing a cell related bioethics issue.

The Classroom Flow: Discussing the Case of the Mo Cell Line

30 minutes

1.  Pass out the Moore bioethics case document for today's activity.

NOTE ADD IN MOORE ARTICLE if it is ok, check on copyright if not, add web link to this related article.

2.   Use a group reading technique such as the popcorn method to read through the timeline of Mr. Moore's interactions with Dr. Golde.  

  • Note:  This summary of events is in my own words and should be accessible to students.  There are many other articles that summarize the timeline of events leading to the Supreme Court case and the two-part decision by the justices.  

3.  Share out the first part of the Supreme Court ruling on the last page of the case document concerning Dr. Golde's duty to disclose and give students the opportunity to share out their feelings/thoughts about this half of their ruling.  As students share their ideas, keep bringing the conversation back to their supporting evidence from the case summary by saying "What makes you say that?"

  • Note:  Students will feel very strongly that the doctor was not honest in the way they would want their doctor to be with them. 

4.  Now it is time to focus on the second half of the decision:  the question of money owed to Mr. Moore.  Give students a few minutes to discuss their thoughts about the following prompts:

Does Dr. Golde owe Mr. Moore money from the profits he made from Mr. Moore's cells that he used without Mr. Moore's permission?

If so, why and how much?  If not, why not?

5.  Using the spokesperson protocol, have students share out their responses.  

  • Note: Be prepared for a huge range in answers here!  Be open to all perspectives and keep bringing the students back to the evidence by using the simple response question, "What makes you say that?"

5.  Now it is your turn to do the big reveal about this aspect of the case and listen to the groans and high five sounds as students compare the Court's decision to their own analysis of the case.  

  • Note:  Some years I reveal the outcome right here in class.  Other times, I tell them I will share with them after their assignment.  It is up to you as to what will motivate students more--knowledge or suspense!  The Court ruled that Mr. Moore does not deserve money, but the reasons they gave were not about Mr. Moore specifically; they were concerned other people would come forward wanting the same treatment which would lead to a slow down in scientific discovery.  They were also concerned that it would be too burdensome on scientists to keep detailed records of who they received samples from and their permission documents.  The kids may or may not agree with the Court's decision about sharing monety with Mr Moore, but they will have issues about these rationales for that decision.  The students who feel Mr. Moore does not deserve money in general feel that it is a sign of a lack of gratitude to a doctor who treated him and saved his life.  They also report feeling that no matter what the sample, the work was done by the doctor and that is what he was being paid for and so therefore, he should not have to share.  Proponents of profit sharing will say that Mr. Moore deserves some small amount for his part of Dr. Golde's research that couldn't be done without him and as a deterrent to other doctors considering unethical research practices.

The Classroom Flow: Introducing the Assignment

10 minutes

1.  Turn to the last page of the case summary document to outline their role play/creative writing assignment.

2.  Tell students that they will have the rest of the period to discuss their project ideas and plan with their partner.

3.  While students are talking, circulate to support any student discussions about the content of the case document, their ideas for a video or writing, and any other issues they might want to confer with you about during this brief planning session.

  • Note: Students will want to talk out some of their creative ideas, especially for the video option. It is a chance for them to think about characters/roles, costumes, and specific points they want to be sure to include for their audience to hear and understand.  As you talk to students and listen to their ideas and questions, keep bringing it back to evidence from the case summary or other sources that supports their point of view.  

The Classroom Flow: Following Up, Sharing Work

1.  On the due date, collect student work.  Tell students they have 5 minutes to prepare for their brief class share-out.  Remind them of our public speaking basic guidelines.

  • Note:  I typically have students submit their work to their Google drive through our district's Google apps for education account.  That way, I have access to all creative writing samples and movie files.  Typically, students who chose to write also bring in a hard copy that they can refer to as they discuss their project with the class.  Students who created videos typically access them through their Google accounts to show to the class using our classroom desktop computer and projector.

2.  Most students this year chose to create videos.  Check out this student work sample video by a student who chose to work by himself to interpret the material and create a breaking news story clip about the case.  I am very proud of the work this student did to think deeply about the ethical issues of the case as evidenced by our conversations about the class reading and discussion and how to best communicate that understanding through video.  

3.  Allow each student group a few minutes to present their video or writing to the class.  Students will be eager to appreciate though applause and positive comments.  Depending upon the time you have available, you can structure or extend the comment section with more formal prompts such as:

What stands out most about this presentation?

Did your thinking/perspective change?  If not, why not? If so, how?

You will get all kinds of responses about changes or affirmations about student thinking/mindset about the issues in this case!  

  • Note:  I mentioned the Henrietta Lacks case and R. Skloot book and some students expressed an interest in continuing on in this exploration of patient rights.   In fact, one of them presented me with his written reactions/responses to that book!  In the future, I could see expanding out this lesson to include both the Moore and Lacks narratives related to our brief introduction bioethics.