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Teaching Ethics


published on July 31, 2015

Roslyn Weaver, Jack Menzies

Freak Show Bodies and Abominations
Teaching Research Ethics From Dark Angel

Teaching research ethics often relies on a textbook-approach that is heavily theory-based. Students can find it difficult to engage with the material because of the difficulty of learning new terminology. In the health professional education disciplines in particular, students may perceive these courses to be difficult or irrelevant because their other courses are usually, in comparison, highly practical, hands-on, or more obviously relevant to their future career. This paper therefore explores another approach to teaching research ethics. Popular culture texts have been used in health education previously to engage students in lessons about communication, professionalism, and clinical ethics. This could be extended to teaching research ethics generally, and this paper outlines suggestions for doing this using one television program, Dark Angel, which offers potential for provoking discussions and learning about research ethics, in and outside of health education. Dark Angel, a science-fiction television program, reflects real-life ambivalence about medical research in the program’s presentation of medical experiments, suggesting that genetic research leads to grotesque monsters and also flawless superhumans. The series offers many storylines and episodes dealing with key ethical principles: research merit and integrity, informed consent, respect and vulnerable groups, and risk and benefit. Dark Angel and popular science fiction texts like it provide—even if unintentionally—the opportunity to consider possible consequences of scientific research, and potential ethical dilemmas. The program offers a forum for discussing real-life research issues in an accessible medium that could be used as a supplement to the ethics education of students.

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