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University students take on the role of public consultation panel to study ethical dilemmas

[Photo: Performers and students]

As part of their modules Targeting Biochemical Knowledge to Medical Problems and Current Topics in Medical Genetics more than fifty second-year Medical  Biochemistry and Genetics students recently took part in the interactive drama, A Present for Anna, performed by the Exstream Theatre Company.

The drama focuses around the story of Anna who is suffering from Fanconi Anaemia and desperately needs a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately no living relative is a match, and her best hope therefore lies with her parents having another child. To remove the element of chance, doctors would like to extend the legislation on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis of embryos so that they could make sure the baby has the right genes to save Anna. But would this be right? What about the embryos that did not prove suitable? Would there be any psychological effects on an individual 'picked' to aid their sister?

A major part of the interactive drama involved the student audience taking on the role of the public consultation panel to debate, and finally decide whether the law should be changed so that pre-implantation genetic diagnosis can include selection of a tissue match. Although fictional, the story of Anna closely echoes some real-life cases. The drama followed on from another activity in which the students on the module have worked to produce a set of web pages reviewing other web-based resources that address a range of different bio-ethical topics.

Biochemistry Lecturer Dr Chris Willmott, who was responsible for bringing the touring production to the University, commented that "the explosion of new molecular technologies in the last ten years has brought the potential for exciting new therapies for genetic diseases. But they bring with them a whole raft of ethical dilemmas which previous generations have never had to think about. Consideration of both the underlying science and the ethical arguments relating to these topics is an important component of this module. The drama provided an excellent opportunity for students to explore the issues surrounding one of these dilemmas."

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Last updated: 13 May 2003 10:55
Created by: Barbara Whiteman

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