Bioethics Discussion Topics

Research a bioethics topic at

Introduction: The following are not questions which have clear right or wrong answers (or at least ones that we could get everyone to agree to), but they are serious issues that a society must face. Advances in biology and biotechnology are making things possible that we never had to consider before, and the legal system is scrambling to keep up. You will be graded on the thoughtfulness and consistency of your arguments rather than on the position you take. Be prepared to defend your point of view. You might be asked to argue in favor of either side, so prepare arguments pro and con. Points will be deducted for any rude or intolerant behavior, or for trying to win an argument by shouting. (Saying it louder doesn't make you right!) For example, here are some points you might want to make if you were assigned Topic #1.

Arguments in Favor Arguments Against
  • Standing in the way of progress
  • If we don't do it, someone else will
  • Huge potential benefits
    • Faster crop growth
    • Pest resistance
    • Less fertilizer needed
    • Less pesticide needed
    • Less land needed
    • Lower costs
    • Feed the world's hungry
  • Tampering with Mother Nature
  • Risk escape of GMOs into wild populations
  • Can't put the genie back in the bottle
  • Accidentally create a monster
  • Unknown side effects
  • Possible health risks
  • Needs more study
  • Needs more regulation
  • Just because we can doesn't mean we should
  • Unnecessary and irresponsible
  1. Should we allow the insertion of genes from one species into another? (transgenic species)
  2. Should we allow organ and hormone harvesting from animals for human use? (eg. horse insulin, pig hearts)
  3. Should genetically engineered (GMO) crops or livestock be legal? (eg. flavor saver tomato)
  4. Is it wrong to collect or sell endangered species or rare animal parts? (eg. ivory, rhino horn)
  5. Should laws regulate the treatment of pets and farm animals as they already do for laboratory research animals?
  6. Who has the stronger custody claim for a child? Surrogate/adoptive parents or genetic parents?
  7. What should be done with stored frozen embryos after the divorce, death, or disappearance of the parents?
  8. Who owns your cells or your DNA? Can someone use it without your permission? (cancerous He-La cell line)
  9. Should someone be allowed to patent a gene or a DNA sequence if they discover its function? (biotech industry)
  10. Should we allow humans with serious birth defects to be born? (eg. Down's syndrome)
  11. Should we allow humans to be cloned? (the first mammal, Dolly the sheep, has been successfully cloned!)
  12. Who should decide moral/bioethics issues? (the church, the individual, scientists, government?)
  13. Where do you draw the line between necessary (health related) and cosmetic medical procedures? (eg. liposuction, botox, nosejob)
  14. Should insurance companies be required to pay for the treatment of terminally ill patients?
  15. If the family of a person in a coma wants to disconnect them from life support, should that be allowed?
  16. Should there be a maximum lifetime limit on health insurance coverage?
  17. Should health insurance companies be allowed access to your medical records or your family's medical history?
  18. Should insurers be allowed to deny applicants with pre-existing conditions or who are genetically "at risk"? (BRCA gene for breast cancer)
  19. Should the French abortion pill (RU-486) or morning after pill (Plan B) be legal?
  20. Should emergency medical treatment of children be required despite the religious wishes of their parents? (faith based healing)
  21. Who should get priority in organ donation? (the nearest to death, the one with the best chance of life, the first on the waiting list, the richest, the most important?)
  22. Should it be legal to harvest organs after death without the prior consent of the deceased or family?
  23. Does a person have a "right to die"? (suicide to avoid long pain and suffering? incurable disease? financial burden to loved ones?)
  24. Is there ever such a thing as mercy killing?
  25. Is it ok to take a life in order to save one? Is it OK to take a life to save ten? a hundred? millions?
  26. Is it ok to eat meat? What if the meat is grown from cell culture rather than obtained from the slaughter of living animals?
  27. Is it more ok to eat fish or birds than it is to eat mammals (pork, beef)? Is is more ok to use animal products (honey, eggs, milk) than to kill animals for our benefit?
  28. Is it ok to do experiments on animals if the studies are of potential benefit to humans?
  29. Is it ethical to test the effects of potentially harmful chemicals on animals in order to see if they are safe for human use?
  30. Is it ok for humans to exterminate a species because it would benefit us? (smallpox, guinea worm, mosquito, wolf, grizzly bear)
  31. Is the world ours to do with what we please? Are we responsible for taking care of it?
  32. What should the penalty be for destroying something (a forest, a rare geological feature, an archeological site) that is priceless/irreplaceable?
  33. If we ruin the Earth, do we have the right to colonize other worlds?
  34. If possible, should we bring a species back from extinction using DNA techniques? (What if the extinction was human caused?)
  35. Should people with incurable genetic defects be allowed to have children?
  36. If your family has a genetic history of an incurable disease, would you want to know if you carry the defective gene?
  37. Should a person who has been legally convicted of murder years ago be set free if DNA evidence now proves his/her innocence?
  38. Should the state have to pay reparations to the family if an innocent man/woman was put to death?
  39. Is improving the human species by genetic engineering a good idea?
  40. If we are not all born equal, should we still be treated as equals?
  41. What should we do with people who have genes associated with criminal behavior if they have not (yet?) committed a serious crime?
  42. If you could possibly save a friend's life by donating an organ or undergoing a painful medical procedure, would you do it? How about for a stranger?
  43. Would you change what you plan to do with your life if you knew that a genetic defect was likely to kill you by age 30?
  44. Do we have the right to keep people out of our country even if it may cause them pain, suffering, or possibly even death?
  45. Is a human life worth more than an animal life? Is an American life worth more than the life of a non-American?
  46. Is it ethical for an American to buy an organ such as a kidney from a foreigner who is desperate for the money?

Extra Credit: Read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon, or watch the movie Gattaca.