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Series explores bioethics through pop culture

Series explores bioethics through pop culture

It seems you cannot turn on the television without coming across a movie or series exploring what our world might look like if advancements in science and technology are corrupted or mismanaged.

These films captivate us by depicting a dystopian future, one in which science is to blame for the ills of society. But what they often lack, according to Kylie Osterhus, a research coordinator with Mayo Clinic's Biomedical Ethics Research Program, is a serious discussion of any real-world science.

Osterhus (interviewed below) and her colleagues want to change that.

The research program is partnering with the Rochester Public Library and Rochester Civic Theatre to host a series they are calling "Bioethics at the Cinema." Their goal is to use popular films to start a dialogue around complex biomedical issues.

Q: What was the impetus for this series?

A: The Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Program was looking for a way to explore bioethics within the local community, to share our knowledge and perspective and hear the perspectives and opinions of others on these complex, thought-provoking bioethical issues making headlines today and in the future. So we partnered with the Rochester Public Library and Rochester Civic Theatre Company to create a series of events that will bring together these voices.

Q: Why use popular culture as a starting point for a conversation on bioethics?

A: Many of the bioethicists in our department were inspired to seek out careers in medical ethics by the science fiction books they read and the sci-fi movies and TV shows they watched as children. Popular culture can help us look at the world in new and different ways.

Q: Briefly describe what you hope the community takes away from this series.

A: Through film, we can explore abstract ethical issues that are difficult, if not impossible, to describe fully in words. Our hope is that folks watch a great movie and participate in some stimulating dialogue.

Q: What about these films makes them worthy of additional scrutiny/discussion?

A: A group of community members, who are different ages and have different backgrounds, chose the films as ones they’d like to discuss with experts. Our team is excited to dig below the surface and explore the themes and ideas presented in these selections.

Q: Is what's coming out of the entertainment industry advancing or hurting the dialogue on bioethical issues?

A: Movies frequently depict a dystopian future, and that’s OK, but a serious discussion of scientific advancements can be surprisingly absent. This can spread misunderstandings about real-world science, leading us to treat revolutionary technology, like CRISPR gene-editing or artificial intelligence, only as things to fear.

Q: How can we as a society do a better job of furthering awareness on actual science, when so much of the media we consume is meant for entertainment?

A: Think critically about the science articles and memes you read in the media and share on social media. Break away from your virtual echo chamber. Bioethics at the Cinema is a great opportunity for you to ask questions of and voice concerns to experts.

The next event is scheduled for April 29 at the Rochester Civic Theatre. There will be a showing of The Danish Girl, a fictitious love story loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, followed by a panel discussion on transgender healthcare with experts from Mayo Clinic and the Southern Minnesota Transgender Support network.

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