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The Boy in the Bubble
Teacher's Guide: Hints for the Active Learning Questions


  1. To help students think about the events from their own life they would like to include, you may want to ask the class as a whole for suggestions on what kinds of events are most important and most memorable in a person's early life.

  2. Remind students that the diary entries should reflect David's age at the time; David was five when he wore the suit and twelve when he left the bubble for the final time.


  1. You might want to start the two groups off with provocative questions to spark discussion, such as: Did David have the right to make the final decision on whether to continue his treatment inside the bubble? If not, why not? If so, at what age should he have been allowed to make that decision? Also, should doctors always try to prolong a person's life, regardless of the quality of that life and the likelihood of recovery?

  2. Students may want to read this discussion of the ethical issues involved in David's case. Also, as part of the class review of the Hippocratic Oath, you might discuss the instruction "First, do no harm," which is not part of the oath but has been attributed to Hippocrates and is widely used in discussions about medical ethics: what do you think would constitute "doing no harm" in David's case?


  1. The Paul Simon song can be found on his album "Graceland." The "Seinfeld" episode was aired during the television series' fourth season.

  2. You might close the activity by asking students if today could be considered a time of medical miracles: what recent medical advances can they name, and conversely, what new threats to human health have scientists not yet been able to defeat?


  1. For the sake of simplicity, you may want to have students assume that they would pay full retail price for the items that could be purchased with the funds, but students should understand that organizations buying these items in bulk would pay much less. For example, a hungry child in a developing country can be fed for $8 per month, according to the non-profit organization Feed the Children, and it costs less than a dollar to vaccinate a child against measles, according to the Red Cross.

  2. For example, students might choose to compare research funding for different types of cancer, or contrast diseases that receive large amounts of funding with diseases that receive relatively little funding, or contrast the decline in funding for some diseases with the increase in funding for other diseases.

    An alternative activity would be to compare the entire budget of the National Institutes of Health (around $29 billion per year) with other areas of federal spending (these tables from the Office of Management and Budget provide funding levels for different parts of the federal government) or with spending by private individuals on non-essential items such as renting movies. Do you think the United States spends the right amount, too much, or too little on medical research?

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The Boy in the Bubble American Experience