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Fred B. Schnee
Associate Professor
fred.schnee@loras.edu
Department of Biology
Loras College
A Genetic Defense for Murder? 

This case study presents the mock trial of "Martin Miller." There is no question that Martin killed his girlfriend; he admitted to stabbing her in a violent rage. But what is the degree of his responsibility? By virtue of Martin having the MAOA-L gene variant, together with a history of childhood abuse, should his punishment be reduced? This hypothetical case, which requires students to think through the issues rather than simply look up a verdict, is based on actual events and violent behaviors that resulted in criminal charges claimed to be related to MAOA. The MAOA gene and its effect on behavior have been extensively studied, and research results have been introduced as evidence in court cases with differing results. The present case study allows students to explore how behavioral genetic information can be applied to a courtroom situation, and requires them to integrate information from biology, ethics, and the law. Note: Due to the unusual structure of the case, no answer key is available.


Which of These is True? Validity and Ethics in Scientific Experimentation 

Many biology courses are designed to develop student understanding and application of the scientific method, but few seriously examine the various ethical questions associated with scientific research. This interdisciplinary case study presents three experiments and asks not only if they are scientifically valid but whether they were ethically performed.  The experiments examine the psychology of love, a cause of breast cancer, and how the immune system functions in the presence of cancer. Based on their opinions of the validity and ethics of each experiment, students are asked to conclude which of the experiments were actually conducted by scientists and which are fictional. Students should already be familiar with the scientific method, but information on the Georgetown Mantra and Nuremberg Code is included. The case could be modified for use in non-majors and majors classes.  The format of the case challenges students of any background to use information from both science and ethics to see how the differing approaches of the scientist and the ethicist can complement and strengthen each other.