Me, Myself and MRI

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What does Ethics mean?

In this session we started off with a discussion on what we mean by ethics. We searched for some time for a simple definition of ethics but weren't able to find one.
What do we mean by ethics? Is it simply what's right or wrong or is there more to it?

We agreed as a group that ethics is an area that is complex, often controversial and quite difficult to clearly define, yet we all have quite a good grasp of what it's  about.

We discussed the fact that ethics is concerned with:
  • right and wrong
  • good and bad
  • fair and unfair
  • responsible and irresponsible
  • praiseworthy and blameworthy.

Thinking about and discussing ethics can make us feel:
  • guilt
  • shame
  • indignation or anger
  • resentment
  • empathy
  • compassion
  • care.

Ethics relates to public policy (laws, politics, religion, accepted practices or ways of doing things) as well as to much more personal matters, our conscience as an individual and the way we view the world.

Ethics in Science and Art

Once everyone had a good understanding of what we mean by ethics we started looking in more detail at examples of people and areas of work in science and the arts where ethical concerns have been raised.

To represent science we talked about genetic cloning, to discuss ethics in art we talked about the work of Damien Hirst. To look at an area where arts and science might crossover we talked about the work of Gunther von Hagens and his Body Worlds exhibition.
Ethical Questions appear in lots of different areas such as law, religion and politics but they also appear regularly in debates about science and art

For each of the three case studies we started by presenting the group with a series of facts, giving everyone the chance to ask questions along the way so that the whole group had a clear understanding of the area we were discussing. This discussion included an exploration of why people might have raised ethical concerns about the case studies and also presented facts that supported both sides of the argument. For example, in the discussion on genetic cloning we talked about some of the medical breakthroughs that could be made possible through cloning, such as the creation of organs for transplant purposes. We also talked about some of the concerns that people have surrounding cloning, particularly when it comes to the possibility of cloning humans.

Following this presentation we showed the group some statements and asked them to discuss them. For example, in the section on cloning the two statements we presented were: Cloning will enable us to cure many diseases and provide transplant organs on demand and Cloning isn't natural and we should leave well alone. Each case study led to a really lively debate amongst the group, with strong arguments being presented on both sides.

Some of the issues that were discussed included: 
  • whether the value of a piece of art is in the artwork itself or in the concept or idea behind it. Or is it linked to the reputation of the artist?
  • If a part of an artwork is restored or replaced should it still have the same value as the original? 
  • Do the potential risks associated with genetic cloning outweigh the potential benefits?
  • Is the idea of 'designer babies' a good thing? How did people feel when the first test tube babies were born in the 1970s?
  • Is it OK to use dead bodies or parts of dead bodies in public exhibitions? 
  • Why do people agree to donate their bodies to Gunther von Hagens?

The session finished with a discussion around some of the ethical issues associated with this project. As we did earlier in the session, we presented the group with some statements and asked them to discuss them. The statements we discussed were:
  • I don't agree with artists and students being given access to an MRI scanner when there is such a long waiting list on the NHS
  • I don't think that people's brains and personal information should be shown as part of an art exhibition
  • I don't see how this project and the exhibition are going to help people understand more about MRI.

Several of the arguments, viewpoints and questions that came up during this debate came up again later on in the project. The pupils all had a very clear understanding of ethics and would bring up ethical questions in areas such as selecting the individuals who would appear in the exhibition and editing the video, audio and photographic portraits.

Next section: Ethics - Teaching Resources