Ted's teaching tips

15th June 2001 at 01:00
Major breakthrough in preserving endangered species, or undue interference with nature? The successful preservation of eggs and sperm raises sensitive questions, not just about processes such as in vitro fertilisation, but social, ethical and legal issues.

Artificial insemination

This eaglet is a kind of "test-tube" baby - what does that mean (the egg has been fertilised with sperm that had been kept frozen, and then hatched in an incubator)? How can artificial insemination be used with animals (preserve rare or endangered species whose young might not survive alone; where there is a shortage of mates; improve the breed by spreading the semen of a particularly healthy or champion animal, for example, bull, racehorse; deal with problems of infertility, as the egg can be taken from the mother, fertilised and then reinserted in the uterus, known as in vitro fertilisation)?

Eagles

What do you know about eagles (large birds of prey, often found in mountainous areas, but can live by the sea)? Why are they endangered, if they are big and fierce (not many pairs exist of certain species, eggs may be plundered by other creatures, or by humans)? Is there just one kind of eagle (30 species, including golden, fish, bald (or American) eagle)? Why is the eagle an important symbol (magnificent bird that signifies strength, soaring flight, fine appearance)? Who has used the eagle as a symbol (the Romans, Germany and the United States, on flags, coinage etc)? What other animals illustrate awesome strength (lion, tiger, bull, hawk, elephant)?

Human aspects

Ho can similar birth techniques be used with humans (help with infertility: if a mother has problems conceiving, an egg can be fertilised and then reinserted in her uterus, or into that of a "surrogate" mother; a sperm donor can be found if the father is infertile; allows a single parent to have a child)? What are the legal problems (the surrogate parent might claim "ownership" of the baby; difficulties over inheritance, property, other rights, determining who is the "legal" parent: the biological parent, the host mother, the sperm donor)? Are there any ethical or social difficulties (becoming a parent late in life; being able to freeze sperm and thus have children years later)?

Writing

Write an account of this eaglet's life after it returns to the wild.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University

TALKING POINTS

Should human and animal births be "natural", or are artificial means acceptable?

For

Interfering with nature is dangerous, creating complex legal, ethical or social problems. Natural selection helps strengthen a species, whereas artificial breeding may sustain its weaknesses. Extinction may seem cruel, but it is nature's way. The human race probably thrived because potential predators, such as dinosaurs, became extinct.

Against

People who had problems conceiving have become parents, thanks to medical advances such as in vitro fertilisation. It would be tragic if magnificent birds, such as eagles, died out, when we have the means to save them. Ethical and social problems are rare.


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