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University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
Recommended by:
Society of Biology
PEEP for Physics & Ethics at GCSE

Structuring discussion

Case Study 2 - Rainforest in South America

Learning Outcomes

To demonstrate an awareness of the ethical issues associated gene patenting and use of natural resources.

Assessment of Learning Outcomes: There is no formal assessment but each group must report back on their conclusions and the reasons they reached them.

Teaching Structure/Format: This case is used as a 'discussion starter' either at the beginning of a course or at the start of an undergraduate training session. It would easily occupy sixth-formers for a lesson. The case is studied by a small group and about 15 minutes is allowed for their discussion. The groups must reach a decision and provide supporting argument(s) for their decision.
Or it is possible to split a class into groups to consider issues from the perspectives of the different ‘actors’ in the scenario and use a plenary to summarise the supporting arguments.


The Scenario

A small less-developed country in South America is deep in debt. Its main resource is its rain forest.

In order to raise revenue, the government has already granted a licence to a Japanese logging company to clear 25% of the forest.

The land that has so far been cleared is used for cattle ranching, mainly to raise beef for the US market.
The government is considering granting a licence to a trans-national biotechnology company to exploit the forest's gene pool.

In addition to receiving the income from the licence, the company has agreed to pay the government royalties on income generated from discoveries based on the rain forest gene pool.

Identify the ethical issues involved in dealing with this situation? Who are the different actors: the government of the country, the people in the country, the logging company, the US market, the biotechnology company and the animals and plants in the rainforest? List the pros and cons for each actor that has been identified.

Question: Should the government grant the biotechnology company the requested licence? Explain your answer.


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