US Bioethics Commission commends Primary Ethics program

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
NW Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President: On behalf of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission), we present to you Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology. In this legacy report, the Bioethics Commission focuses on two essential, mutually reinforcing missions—both practical and ethical—in our constitutional democracy: democratic deliberation and ethics education. These two tools can and should be used in tandem to address and resolve complex problems in developing health, science, and technology policy for our society.

The US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has released its report titled: Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology.

The 8 year-long commission examined how democratic societies should make decisions about complex ethical issues in health care, technology and research.

The Bioethics Commission is an advisory panel of the nation’s leaders in medicine, science, ethics, religion, law, and engineering,  The Commission advises the President on bioethical issues arising from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology.  It seeks to identify and promote policies and practices that ensure scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in a socially and ethically responsible manner.

The report recommended ethics education from an early age and singled out the Primary Ethics program as unique in the world due to the dual benefits of introducing primary school children to ethics as well as broader community exposure to ethics through volunteer involvement.

This recognition is an extraordinary endorsement of both the work of our curriculum author, Dr Sue Knight, and the quality of the lessons we are delivering to children here in NSW.

Dr Knight had been invited to Washington in September last year to present a talk to the commission on ethical literacy and the importance of introducing ethical and general philosophical inquiry to school-aged children.

An excerpt from the report follows:

An innovative example of ethics education in primary school is a program developed for students in New South Wales, Australia. The curriculum for the program is organized around age-appropriate questions, scenarios, and case studies that encourage students to think for themselves.

The youngest children, for example, consider such questions as whether telling others a friend’s secret is okay or whether being frustrated with someone justifies physically hurting that individual.

Older children consider more complex questions for example, whether being fair means giving everyone in the group an equal share or what counts as cheating. Often the questions are closely related to a child’s everyday experiences.

The program emphasizes both “sequential and spiral” learning, meaning the curriculum revisits the questions through progressively more detailed engagement as the children get older and advance through the program. Because the classes are led by volunteers from the community, including parents and grandparents, the program also makes a distinctive contribution to broader public ethics education and ethics literacy.

The full report can be read here: