Breaking the Mould - 'Bioethics and Health', confronting the issues of life

Thursday 17th March 2022

John McGlashan and Columba Colleges have collaborated once more, combining a selection of their Year 13 girls and boys in an innovative new class (and subject), Bioethics and Health.

Breaking the Mould - Bioethics and Health, confronting the issues of life
Breaking the Mould - Bioethics and Health, confronting the issues of life

The brain-child of Dr. Craig Preston, the course was developed and proposed to the College Senior Leadership in October 2021, and green-lighted for integration into the curriculum for 2022, 'if sufficient and suitable students signed up'. Around 45 girls and boys applied in writing, of which 15 had to be sadly turned away, still leaving a large class to make its debut in the senior curriculum at John McGlashan College.

After laying the foundation of bioethics and health (hauora) as concepts, the course facilitates robust discussion around the pertinent health issues of today and the ethical dilemmas that arise as a result. To date, the students have tackled abortion, euthanasia, Māori access to health, and reproductive technologies and fertility.

"Bio-Ethics and Health has been a really refreshing and interesting course to take so far. We have learnt about topics that cross over onto many other subjects, and topics that also are important for life far past school. The classroom vibe is relaxed and open which leads to some really interesting discussions about real-world ethical issues in health. It has been eye opening so far and I am looking forward to see what else we cover" [Harrison Marshall, Year 13 JMC]

Complementing our discussions are various guest speakers with expertise in various topics, and field trips to a variety of health organisations. To date we have welcomed Marianne Te Tau (pictured below), a clinical nurse specialist at the Southern District Health Board, who helped us to understand the distinction between equality and equity, and the resultant challenges of access to health for New Zealand Māori.

Marianne Te Tau, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Dunedin Hospital kindly visited to speak to us about the challenges of health access for Māori — Image by: Craig Preston

"Bioethics (and Health) is an intriguing subject full of controversial opinions and topics, meaning as students, we must keep an open mind when chatting about things such as abortion, euthanasia, and even racial inequalities within our own country. I personally enjoy this class immensely because of the friendly nature of my peers, but most definitely my teacher, Dr Preston, who encourages me to learn in an environment that is benevolent. Bioethics is a very new subject to me as I’ve never been in a class where there is “no wrong answer” and through the support of the people around me, we can engage together to understand the importance of how these views affect the wider world. I’m excited to see what the rest of the year has for me to experience in bioethics and look forward to learning something new everyday" [Macey Mercer-Black, Year 13 CC]

We were really fortunate to engage the minds of three House Officers (Dr. Gloria Kim, Dr. Joshua Preston, and Dr. Anastasia Shoebridge), who kindly sent us a video of themselves outlining their thoughts on euthanasia from the perspective of young doctors. Dr. Shoebridge even ZOOM'ed into our class and had discussions with the students at their tables! 

Dr Anastasia Shoebridge, Dr. Gloria Kim and Dr. Joshua Preston shared their views on euthanasia from their perspective as young doctors. — Image by: Craig Preston

Certainly our top highlight thus far took place earlier this week when Charlotte Mosley visited the class and spoke to us about her experiences of preparing for, and currently carrying, her 23-week old IVF-conceived child! The students were particularly touched by Charlotte's willingness to share such a personal journey with us all and provide insights into fertility issues largely unaccessible without the generosity of people like her being prepared to share their story.

Dr. Craig Preston interviewed Mrs Charlotte Mosley about her journey preparing for, and currently carrying, her IVF-conceived child. — Image by: Craig Preston

"When I walk into bioethics each day, there is always a smile on my face. The subject matter is always interesting and Dr. P creates an awesome environment for learning in. It is definitely a highlight of my day and sometimes doesn't even feel like we're at school because we're always having fun" [Solomon Harcombe, Year 13 JMC]

Considering the entry criteria to make the class cut, it is not surprising that these students have embraced a culture of respectful, yet frank, discussion, high engagement and the ability to consider various perspectives while justifying, and often altering, their own. Having an even mix of both girls and boys has only strengthened and enriched the classroom discussion (and to be fair, the banter!). 

Bioethics and Health is assessed under the NCEA senior Health domain, and is thus completely endorsable whilst also qualifying as a UE subject. It is also strongly recommended that students applying for entrance into the Bioethics and Health course demonstrate:

- a genuine interest in the subject and are able to articulate how it contributes to their future studies and/or career aspirations

- reasonable proficiency in both the humanities and the sciences (a Merit endorsement would be preferable in related subjects)

- past studies in English-rich subjects (English, History, Social Sciences etc would be an advantage, but not a requirement)

- a commitment to engage (talk, contribute etc) in group discussion and presentations in class, and to engage (ask questions, show interest etc) on field trips

"Bioethics and Health is a really fun class, and I'm really grateful to have been selected for this new course this year! The classroom environment is welcoming and the topics we discuss are very thought provoking - it's interesting hearing everyone's different opinions, and it's a good opportunity to learn from each other. It's strange having a mixed-gender class after being in a single sex school for my whole high school life, but for this particular subject having a mixed-gender class is great as we are able to see more perspectives on the various issues we discuss. Dr Preston is a great teacher, he genuinely cares about his students, respects everyone's opinions, and makes learning fun" [Hannah Cole, Year 13 CC]

All in all, a fabulous start for the new course, and wonderful student feedback thus far! Coming up is a Bioethics and Health Symposium, a full day of health professionals from an array of career paths offering workshops on ethical issues specific to their professions, hosted by John McGlashan College. 

For more information on the course, contact Dr. Craig Preston on 

Student Course Endorsements 2022
Dr Craig Preston 
Hannah Cole recently won the Basics of Bioethics and Health poster competition and is going to the movies with a friend!