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Life for a life

  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Case study
Topic: Reproduction

Genetic technology offers a lifeline to the parents of children with debilitating, incurable diseases. An injection of healthy cells might cure them. Embryo selection could give them a baby with matching tissues to provide these cells. Until now, this has been illegal in the UK. On 21st of July 2004 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) relaxed the rules. Should we be worried about the consequences? Are we on the slippery slope towards 'Designers babies'? The activity gets students to take on the role of the HFEA at the point where they were deciding whether or not to relax their rules. It is organised like a question time, with a panel of scientist, ethicist and legal expert contributing to the debate. The activity is adapted from the 'Genetic Futures' DNA 50th anniversary schools programme.

The activity was originally developed by The Centre for Science Education, Sheffield Hallam University. The Genetic Futures programme was sponsored by The Medical Research Council, The Royal Society, The Department for Education and Skills, NESTA, The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, The Department of Trade and Industry, The Department of Health (DH) and Bio-Rad Laboratories Ltd.

Published: 5th March 2005
Reviews & Comments: 25

Learning objectives

The activity promotes an understanding of ethical issues by encouraging students to explore the risks and benefits of embryo choice technology.

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

The ethics of pre-implantation genetic testing.

GCSE specifications
AQA Additional Science
Unit B2 Biology: 11.8 Which human characteristics show a simple pattern of inheritance?
• Make informed judgements about the economic, social and ethical issues concerning embryo screening that they have studied or from information that is presented to them.
Edexcel Core Science
Unit B1a Topic 2: Genes
• Consider the contemporary scientific theory of 'designer babies' and explain why today's scientists are finding so much opposition to this being publicly accepted.
Twenty First Century Core Science
Module B1 You and your genes: B1.3 How can and should genetic information be used? How can we use our knowledge of genes to prevent disease?
• Understand the implications of testing embryos for embryo selection (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis).

Running the activity

Starter activity: Project the top half of page 1, or display it on an OHP. This presents the dilemma faced by the parents of a child with a debilitating genetic disease. A quick vote can be used at this stage to gauge students' initial reactions to the problem.
Main Activity: The bottom half of page 1 introduces the main activity which is intended to provide the basis for a more considered judgment. The debate can be organised like a "Question Time", with volunteers acting as the panel of experts. To ensure an informed debate, the panel needs to be carefully chosen and briefed in advance. Researchers in Residence, Science Ambassadors, trainee teachers or older students could play a part. Page 2 can be printed to provide briefing cards for students taking on expert roles. The rest of the class can be split into small groups. Each group has to generate ethical, scientific and legal questions to put to the panel. Page 3 can be photocopied to provide a set of prompts to help with this. A question and answer session follows, with groups taking it in turns to pose their questions. Plenary: Students can discuss their response to the debate in small groups and write their individual decisions on the voting cards provided on page 4. The students' responses can then be compared with the HFEA's decision to relax the rules on embryo choice to allow a life for a life.

News links

BBC Health News
A news article written on the day the HFEA decision was announced. It summarises a range of reactions to the news.
BioEthics Education Project.
Accessible summaries of the techniques and issues.
Centre for Bioethics and Human Dignity
A thought-provoking article on the ethics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis from the Centre for Bioethics and Human Dignity.
A fact sheet on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Apr 23rd, 2015

5 Star

very interesting activity which engaged the pupils well and promoted discussion

Reviewer: Hannah Grant


Dec 2nd, 2012

5 Star


Reviewer: tabi cotchin

new link

May 3rd, 2012

4 Star
new link to fact sheets as old one does not work....trying this with a year 9 mixed-low ability group, who prefer talking than writing...will let you know how it worked

Reviewer: heather taylor

Embryo Screening

Mar 11th, 2012

5 Star

A perfect case study that is just right to allow E grade students to be sucessful along side the A grade students.

I look forward to teaching this this week.

Reviewer: Amanda Anderson

Life for a life review

Oct 9th, 2011

5 Star

Excellent activity

Reviewer: K B

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Jul 29th, 2011

5 Star

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Reviewer: jiang tao

reproduction- gene technology

May 3rd, 2011

5 Star

what a thought provoking lesson. Trying to get girls to form an opinion on an issue related to genetics. Good link up to 'my sister's keeper' jodie picoult.

Reviewer: brenda goodwill

Life for a life review

Nov 6th, 2010

4 Star

My students enjoyed this activity , they where engaged right from the starter activity highly recommended

Reviewer: Helen Onyeaka


Sep 4th, 2010

5 Star

Raised a very interesting debate with my Top Set Yr 9's.
They're a highly moralistic lot and took the activity very seriously.
Good to find an activity that really made them think.

Reviewer: Simone Lively

Life for a life

Jun 21st, 2010

4 Star

I made this more structured and used it with a year 8 and 9 group. It was the first time the year 8 group had done this style of lesson. I gave them a role to play so they could gather the different arguments between them and they bought into it really well. Giving them roles seemed to take away the fear of their opinions being wrong.

Reviewer: colin ANDERSON

Couldnt download the activity sheet

Mar 16th, 2010

1 Star

I'm sure this is a great activity but the pdf wont download, it just keeps returning me to this page.
Looks like a great idea but shame I cant use it

Reviewer: Peter Banks

life for a life

Dec 17th, 2008

4 Star

My year 9 group found the topic captivating. We had just completed the basics of inheritance & cloning and then put what they had learnt into practice.

This led on to another lesson where the class worked towards producing a documentary on the topic of embryo selection. Amazed how stimulated they were

Reviewer: Joanna Hinds

life for life

Jun 17th, 2008

5 Star

Very topical, used with an A-level group.

Reviewer: kantha choudhury

Life for a life review

Oct 12th, 2007

3 Star

Reviewer: Catherine Selva

Yr 11 and stem cells

Sep 21st, 2007

5 Star

I used this activity with a top set triple science class in year 11 as a basis for a discussion on the use of stem cell research. They found it very engaging and it gave them a chance to really discuss the ethical issues before writng an editorial on the subject for homework.

Reviewer: Tamsin Morrell

life for a life

Jun 15th, 2007

5 Star

Great activity, used with year 10 to teach you and your genes ethics part. Engaging, pupils had to try very hard to come to a conclusion. Most said that it was difficult to know whether it was right or not. An engaging activity!

Reviewer: Julia Magnall

Life for a Life June 2007

Jun 10th, 2007

5 Star

I used this with a nice year 9 (post Sats ) group as lesson 3 of topic B1 (21st Century Science)

Having talked about how the "How Science Works" course would operate it was really nice to have such an activity to offer.

After the initial introduction we took a straw pole and had quite a few students who were unable to make a decision. By the end of the topic all students voted and were still talking about it as they left the room.

I printed out the supporting articles to have on hand and this worked well but I think it may work even better in an IT room where they could do their own research. This has been set as homework.

Highly recommend

Reviewer: Sharon Tharme

Life for a Life

Jan 28th, 2007

5 Star

I used this with my year 11 class to cover topical issues in genetics. Students were very engaged and enthusiastic, and the materials impressed the RS teacher who was observing!

Reviewer: Zoe Spavold

Life for a Life

Jan 26th, 2007

4 Star

Used this with year 10 classes looking at aspects of gene technology, and potential uses for genetic testing information. The class became very involved in discussing the 'moral' aspect of the work, a positive lesson all round.
The film 'GATTACA' was a good introduction to possible futres based on this sort of research.

Reviewer: Ian Spilsbury

Life for a life review

Nov 30th, 2006

5 Star

Used with a difficult, and noisy, middle set Year 10 in connection with AQA Science work on Fertility. They need to hone up on their debating skills but the activity generated a lot of interest, excitment and a surprising outcome. We did a straw poll at the start of the lesson in which nearly all the class voted to create the new baby but this idea was modified radically by the end of the lesson, when we conducted a secret ballott.
Christine Wolfe
The Forest School

Reviewer: Christine Wolfe

Designer Babies

Nov 20th, 2006

5 Star

Excelllent resources which engages the pupil with my year 10- Foundation class. Quite accesssible because there was not a lot of information from text to sieve through- Very Ideal.

Reviewer: patricia oremosu

Life for a life

May 23rd, 2006

4 Star

I used this activity with year 11 classes. I informed the girls a few weeks in advance which gave the question time panel plenty of time to research their facts. On the day we had a very lively discussion. I will certainly use it again.

Reviewer: jane warwick

Life for a Life

Apr 14th, 2006

5 Star


Top set year 7 loved this activity. They really got into the moral questions about "is it right" and "what would the created child think" -- made a lovely wall display of their thoughts too.

Highly reccommend


Reviewer: Glen Gilchrist

life for a life

Feb 18th, 2006

5 Star

Great activity, useful for yr 7 (top set admittedly) through to yr 11 BD4 topic. An activity which is working towards the new KS4 curriculum. Interesting and relevant.

Reviewer: Alayna French

Life for a Life

Nov 29th, 2005

4 Star

Used this with my Year 11 classes last term to cover the 'Bell Topic' on ethical issues in genetic engineering from the AQA syllabus. Pupils researched the issues and brought in articles - then we conducted the (heated!) debate. Brought the topic to life!

Fiona Paton - Olchfa School

Reviewer: Fiona Paton