“Miss, this isn’t RS it’s science!”

Over this autumn school term, members of our Education Advisory Group are sharing thoughts and ideas based on their own experience of how bioethics and debate can be useful in education contexts. This post is written by Rebecca Ward, Head of Department for Religious Studies and Philosophy, Graveney School, Tooting

And they’re right, in a way. We’re studying a GCSE Religious Studies (RS) unit on Religion and Society and students are expected to consider a number of ethical issues from the perspective of Christianity, Islam and non-religious standpoints. In today’s lesson we’re looking at the ethical implications surrounding organ donation. I begin by eliciting their initial response, “Would you be prepared to donate your organs? Do you think everyone should?” I’m keen to see how and why their views might change over the course of the next few lessons. But the first step is to make sure the students have some basic knowledge and understanding of what organ donation actually involves; without this they’d be in danger of spouting off views in a vacuum – a version of the Jerry Springer show! That’s not what we want – instead I’m after an informed, academic and scholarly debate. This is where the Nuffield Council comes in: They’ve prepared an excellent range of resources on donation and the beauty is that I can pick and choose what I need and tailor the resources to suit my class.

Over the next few lessons the students become increasingly aware that this is not a black and white issue. How are clinicians to decide who on the list are should receive the long awaited donation? Is there something morally contentious about the weighing up of the worth of one life against another? One student pipes up, “Basically, the government should be able to take organs from everybody, it’s just plain selfish not to give.” Yeah,” responds another, “It’s not just selfish. If you don’t donate you are in effect letting someone else die.” The floor erupts. “No one’s taking anything form my body without my permission, that’s theft. My body belongs to me!” And so unwittingly the students have entered into a debate regarding ‘acts’ and ‘omissions’ and the relationship between the individual and the state. We also consider the issue of ‘rewarding’ donations (nudge economics) potential exploitation of the poor, juggling competing interests and the ‘harvesting’  of organs  as well as the role of social media in informing, misinforming or putting undue pressure on individuals.

By the end of the topic students appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of science, religion and ethics. They are able to see the bigger picture. Subjects in school are not isolated blocks of knowledge. Instead, the students are able to make sophisticated links between science, politics, economics, philosophy and religion and real life. Now that’s what I call real learning.

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