An ethical duty to teach?

I was recently involved in an interesting discussion with the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program in Regenerative Medicine regarding ethical challenges in stem cell biology, particularly relating to patient approval for using surgical waste in research. Specifically, it is now possible to engineer “immortal” cell lines from any adult tissue biopsy using the technology of induced pluripotency, which represents enormous potential in the development of pharmaceutical testing paradigms for personalized medicine. Due to widely varying public opinion over the ownership and identity of cells acquired in such a manner, there is significant debate on the topic of non-coercive informed consent as it relates to the acquisition of discarded human tissues for biomedical research.

One may argue that by benefiting from a tradition of medicine, one has a responsibility to perpetuate its advancement by donating useful waste (such as a surgically extracted malignant tumor) to research. During the course of this discussion I began to realize that essentially the same principals that govern my viewpoint on cell donation apply to my motivation as a future educator. In a similar fashion, one who enjoys the benefits of an excellent education may have a deontological obligation to reciprocate the transmission of knowledge by teaching. While it may seem idealistic, the outcomes of 1) advancing science to improve the human condition and 2) transmitting knowledge to future generations for that purpose are motivating factors for someone like me who aspires to become a dual researcher/educator in the life sciences.

I view teaching as an exciting and productive facet of the responsibilities of a professor, rather than an uncomfortable necessity required in order to conduct research in an academic setting. I believe the culture of higher education in the life sciences would be dramatically improved if this opinion were to be more universally shared.

Parting Thoughts:

Do society’s most highly educated have an ethical duty to teach? If so, how does this influence your goals as a future faculty member?

1 thought on “An ethical duty to teach?

  1. The simple answer to this question would be YES. But, I think a more important question is: Do the most highly educated have the ability to teach? Some of the most intelligent people we know do not have the ability to relate to others nor the ability to share their knowledge with those willing to learn.

    A more complex answer is that when researching, we already teach and provide seevice. We typically refer to the triumvirate of professorial duties – service, teaching, research. These are actually interconnected – service involves education, education involves service. When researching, you don’t do it alone, so you are teaching those with whom you do research, then providing a service in furthering their knowledge.

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