Biomedical Ethics & Neanderthal Babies (Upper-Intermediate Lesson Plan)

Download the Biomedical Ethics Lesson Plan (ESL) here: Biomedical-Ethics-Lesson-UppIntermediate-28012013.doc

Biomedical Ethics Lesson Plan (ESL): Upper-Intermediate


Biomedical Ethics Lesson Plan (ESL): Warm-Up

1) Would you like to be a doctor? Why or why not?
2) How are the medical services in your country?

Reading #1: The Neanderthal Baby & Synthetic Biology

A German magazine Spiegel created frenzy over an interview it conducted with biology expert and Harvard University professor George Church. In the interview, Church discusses the technological feasibility of cloning a Neanderthal baby in the future. He suggested it would be possible using procedures for synthesizing DNA. However, an “extremely adventurous female human” would be required to be the surrogate mother of the Neanderthal baby.
Articles entitled “Wanted: Mother for Neanderthal Baby” quickly spread online, leading people to believe that such a project was in the works. Church was forced to clarify that he was merely speculating on the technical possibility of creating a Neanderthal baby, not advocating it.
Biomedical Ethics ESL Lesson Plan: Discussion Questions Part #1
  1. What arguments can you think of for the creation of a Neanderthal baby?
  2. What are the arguments against?
  3. Would you be for it? If not, what about the cloning of an extinct species such as the woolly mammoth?

Reading #2: Case Studies in Biomedical Ethics

Issues in biomedical ethics (or bioethics) are not limited to fantasies about cloning extinct species. Consider and discuss the following cases with a partner or as a group:
a)     A 58-year old woman with a terminal disease is found in her apartment after a failed suicide attempt. The woman, barely breathing, is taken to the hospital where she slips into a coma. The woman did not have a will. Her proxy asks doctors to remove her ventilator so the patient can die because she clearly did not want to live.
b)     A mother and child visit the doctor. The child is complaining of flu-like symptoms. After asking the boy to remove his shirt, the doctor notices distinct bruises on his back. The mother explains that they are from a procedure called “cao gio”, which involves rubbing warm oils on the skin with a coin or metal object. The mother says that cao gio is used to `raise out’ bad blood and improve circulation. When the doctor touches the boys back, the boy makes a painful face. The doctor is unsure of whether he should report the mother to Protective Services.
c)     A couple wishes to have a child, however, the 32-year old woman is a carrier of Huntington’s Disease (HD). HD is a disease that shows symptoms at around 35-45 years old age and always ends in death. Any child the mother conceives would have a 50% chance of contracting the illness. Therefore, the couple decides to use in vitro fertilization to fertilize several of the woman’s eggs. Using special technology, the doctors eliminate the eggs with the defective gene, and keep one healthy one. Nine months later, a healthy boy is born who does not carry the HD gene.
d)     In 1985, researchers in the United States Department of Agriculture inserted human growth hormone genes into the fertilized eggs of pigs. Their aim was to produce pigs that could convert grain into meat faster while consuming less grain. This would be more cost-effective for farmers. Nineteen piglets with human genes survived birth and lived to maturity. However, the experiment failed to produce the desired results. Most pigs suffered from severe medical problems and all were sterile.

Biomedical Ethics Lesson Plan (ESL): Vocabulary Matching

Match the words with their meaning as used in the news lesson.
in the works
speculate (verb)
advocate (verb)
contract sth (verb)
fertilize (verb)
  • frenzy – a period of uncontrolled excitement
  • feasibility – the degree of being easily done; how practical sth is
  • surrogate – substitute
  • in the works – being planned, worked on, or produced
  • speculate – theorize; conjecture
  • advocate – promote
  • terminal – incurable; fatal; deadly
  • will – a document indicating what to do with personal property after death
  • coma – a state of unconsciousness that lasts a long time, usually caused by injury
  • proxy – a person authorized to act on behalf of another
  • contract – catch sth (e.g. a disease)
  • fertilize – join sperm with an egg so that a baby develops
Vocabulary Homework: Circle the words above that you did not know. Add them to your vocabulary book and make sentences with them for homework.

Biomedical Ethics Lesson Plan (ESL): Discussion Questions

1) Do you know any interesting ethical dilemmas?
2) Are you for or against universal healthcare?
3) Are mandatory vaccinations required in your country?
4) Are you for or against genetically modified food (GMO)?

Biomedical Ethics Lesson Plan (ESL) copyright Matthew Barton of

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3 comments on “Biomedical Ethics & Neanderthal Babies (Upper-Intermediate Lesson Plan)

  1. Paul (Posted on 1-29-2013 at 19:29) Reply

    In Answers, “surrogate — subtitle” Probably should be ‘substitute’.

    This is a great website! Well done.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 1-29-2013 at 22:33) Reply

      got it! thanks!

  2. Jennifer Duncan (Posted on 2-9-2017 at 07:15) Reply

    Thanks so much. I really loved the theme because it led the students to have a lot of discussions in class.

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