By Jay MacDougall:
As technology continues to progress, and new innovations begin to change the way we live our lives there will need to be people who can take ethical reflection seriously. Every new piece of technology creates new challenges. Our moral worldviews will need to grow and develop along side this new technology. This is especially true in regards to Health care and technology. Ethics boards around medical research have been common since the second world war, so it is natural for ethics to be discussed in healthcare. Any robust programme that deals with the cross section of technology and health would need to include a comprehensive discussion of ethics.
That is where this course comes into the NICCoLLa project. The ethics course is design to teach students how to reflect ethically on moral dilemmas. The purpose is not to present a moral view for the students to follow, but allow them the tools to create their own moral world view. What the final view the students have at the end of their course is ultimately irrelevant, the course is meant to teach student how to come to the conclusions themselves.
The course is based on a principlist approach to ethics. rather than focus heavily on various moral theories, as is often done in more traditional ethics classes, or ethics as found in philosophy programmes; this course will look at a number of ethical principles. The principles approach is quite common for writing codes of conduct. The basis of it is that students examine a number of principles that are commonly agreed to be good, but there is disagreement on their meaning. For example, you would be hard pressed to find someone who says that Justice is not “good” but finding two people with the exact same definition or view of what justice is, would be next to impossible.
Every lesson students will take the first half to examine an ethical principles, such as Justice, informed Consent, Respect for Autonomy, or Confidentiality. Students will examine different views of the principle while discussing their own viewpoints and how they come to understand them. The second half of the lesson deals with a case study. Students will look a specific dilemma to see how the principle applies in this case.
The case studies can change year to year. A case study bank is being created that will have a number of different cases for the teacher to choose from. For example when dealing with informed consent or respect for autonomy, the question of mandatory vaccinations might come up. Case studies can be changed based on the group of students, or what is happening in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic presented a number of new interesting topics for discussion. Furthermore if the group of students is mostly engineers, more engineering based cases might be chosen. This allows for a fluidity of the course that can keep the course fresh and tailor made to the students.
As mentioned in the beginning, the final viewpoint of the student is irrelevant. It is only the journey that they took there that counts in anyway. Students need to show their final viewpoints but I is how they can defend them that is important. The two main assignments are an essay in which students defend their viewpoint on a dilemma. They are only assessed on how well they defend that position. Students also do a presentation in which they show multiple sides of a dilemma, this is to show the students can see other points of view.
At the end of the course students will have developed tools to better understand ethical and moral dilemma. Through the case studies the course can be constantly updated in order to keep up with the times and be tailor made to the students interests. Students will develop their own moral world views that allow they to better understand their field, the relationship of healthcare and technology and most importantly themselves.