The Bioethics of Gene Therapy

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Students will be able to explore a bioethical issue by learning about the risks and potential outcomes involved in actual gene therapy trials.

Big Idea

Students will consider bioethical issues related to gene therapy.


10 minutes

To engage students in lesson I visit the Gene Therapy module from Genetic Science Learning Center to introduce students to topic.

I specifically focus on the following:

  • What is Gene Therapy?
  • Challenges in Gene Therapy?
  • Gene Therapy Successes

I follow this by showing students Bodyshock - The Boy In The BubbleDavid Vetter (September 21, 1971 -- February 22, 1984) became famous for living in a sterile environment. He was born with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), a disorder that causes the immune system to not work. (CCC - Cause and Effect) Because of this, exposure to any germs could prove fatal. He was called "David, the bubble boy" by the news media. Although they knew his last name, they didn't use it in order to give David and his family privacy. His last name was not revealed to the general public until 10 years after his death.

After video I inform students that SCID is a condition that can be treated with gene therapy and that we will explore further in a case study.


45 minutes

In this section of the lesson, students explore the bioethics of gene therapy by completing The Bioethics of Gene Therapy activity courtesy of Genetic Science Learning Center.


Students read accounts of recent gene therapy trials and consider the ethical implications in each and in continuing gene therapy trials as a whole. Using a bioethical decision- making model, students will state the ethical questions, list relevant facts, identify stakeholders, consider values and develop possible solutions to dilemmas that arise from gene therapy treatments. 


Student Handouts (The Bioethics of Gene Therapy)

Learning Objectives

    • Students will consider the bioethical issues related to gene therapy.

    • Students will learn about hallmark gene therapy trials.

    • Students will examine a bioethical issue from the viewpoint of various stakeholders

    • Students will learn about the risks and potential outcomes involved in actual gene therapy trials. 

  • Students will learn about how gene mutations located in chromosomes affect proteins and cause harmful effects to the structure and function of the organism. (MS-LS3-1)


• One day before activity:

-  Determine which discussion format you would like to use (see Classroom

Implementation - see below) (SL.7.1)

-  Make the appropriate number of copies of the case study(s) you will use

(pages S-1 through S-3)

-  Make the appropriate number of copies of the Ethical Decision-Making Model

(page S-4)

• Day of activity:

-  Divide class into groups, if appropriate

-  Hand out copies of scenarios and Ethical Decision-Making Model (pages S-1 through S-4)

-  Provide time for students to complete the Ethical Decision-Making Model in


Classroom Implementation

• Jigsaw - student choice

◦ Divide the class into three groups.

◦ Assign a different case study for each group to read; they will be the “experts” for their assigned case.

  • Have the groups discuss questions 1-2 on the Ethical Decision-Making Model (S-4) and prepare to share their answers with other members of the class.

  • Have students divide into small groups of three with each group containing one member from each of the “expert” groups.

  • Have each “expert” share their case study and answers to questions 1-2 with their new group.

  • Once all the experts have shared their case studies, ask the groups to choose which case is most compelling to them.

  • Direct the groups to discuss questions 3-6 of the Ethical Decision Making Model (page S-4) as they relate to the case they chose and to prepare a short summary of their discussion to share with the rest of the class. 


• Stage a Philosophical Chair using one of the synopses. (SP7 - Engaging in Argument from Evidence)


5 minutes

It is important for students to reflect and evaluate both their participation and the overall Philosophical Chair process.  To accomplish this each student receives the following two handouts: 

1)  Philosophical Chairs Reflection- students use this tool to report on both their initial and final position on the topic, along with recording the number of times they change their position during the discussion.  In addition, students self-assess on how open-minded they are during the discussion and note/reflect on what their thinking is during the process.

2)  Philosophical Chairs Written Evaluation Report - students use this tool to answer the following questions:

  1. What was the most frustrating part of today’s discussion?

  2. What was the most successful part?

  3. What statements led you to change your seat or to remain sitting in your original position?

  4. What conclusions can you draw about how you form your beliefs based on today’s discussion?

  5. What would you change about your participation in today’s activity? Do you wish you had said something that you did not? Did you think about changing seats but didn’t? Explain.