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The Ethics of Personalized Medicine as a First-Year Common Experience

Posted by on Friday, July 23, 2010 in News.

Recently, the University of California at Berkeley announced a change to their usual practice of having incoming first-year undergraduates read a common book.  This fall, they were asking new students “to return a cotton swab covered in cells collected from their inner cheeks in an effort to introduce them to the emerging field of personalized medicine.”  By participating in personal genetic analysis, the students would presumably be more interested in engaging on conversations once on campus about this topic.

Yesterday, Inside Higher Ed ran an essay by Jane Robbins, senior lecturer in organizational leadership here at Vanderbilt and one of the CFT’s spring 2010 workshop panelists, in which she described the discussions that she and her students had about this Berkeley initiative in her summer course on Corporate and Professional Ethics.  Jane unpacks the ethical issues at play in this initiative, and it’s clear from her essay that this story made a great case study for her students.  Jane writes:

“It had the quality of relatability for graduate students, and all the dimensions of a case suitable for analyzing questions of whether there have been one or more ethics failures; the quality of reasoning and choice-making; and the presence or absence of rationalization, fallacy, and bias in argumentation (whether the university’s argumentation was, in ethics terms, credible). The case was at once simple and self-contained, but complex”

What do you think about Berkeley’s new first-year common experience?  Also, what do you see as the strengths of case-based teaching?

Update: Vanderbilt’s Commons program has just announced its common reading: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson.  No ethically questionable DNA project here.

Image: “DNA” by Flickr user King Coyote / Creative Commons licensed

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