LORENZO’S OIL Overview Lorenzo’s Oil is the story of the Odones’ race against time for the survival of their little boy. Lorenzo at age 6 develops a classic childhood case of Adrenoleukodystrophy. Augusto and Michaela Odone work tirelessly with little assistance from the medical community and the parent support group to find a therapy to stop the progression of this devastating disease. In 2001 Elizabeth Spike, a high school biology teacher in Rochester, New York, chose to show a film to her students to help engage their interest in biology. Like many teachers, she had used many good documentary films in class, and to good effect. But she wanted something that had more drama, more entertainment value, to help draw the interest of less motivated students. After reviewing a number of fictional films, she watched Lorenzo’s Oil, and decided it had a number of qualities that no other film she found shared. While it was a Hollywood production, with the full entertainment values that includes, it was based on a true story. That alone puts it in small company. But also the Odones, the real family described in the story, had a lot of input into the script and film shooting. This added to the authenticity of the story, making its gut-wrenching emotions much more legitimate than a story created just for that effect. A similar fictional story might leave the audience feeling merely entertained at best or manipulated at worst. More importantly, there was more scientific content in this movie than any other Hollywood type film Elizabeth found, in part because of the Odone’s involvement in the entire project. Furthermore, the director of the film, George Miller, had received an M.D. before deciding to become a filmmaker, a rather unusual background in the world of film. He and the Odone’s clearly worked hard to include a sense of the drama involved in the medical and scientific quest portrayed in the movie. (Miller had previously made the Mad Max films, so no one could accuse him of not appreciating the importance of a little action to narrative.) Of course a good deal of the aesthetic credit must also go the excellent acting by Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte as Lorenzo’s parents Michaela and Augusto Odone, and Peter Ustinov as Dr. Nicolaitis. The video was a more successful educational tool than Elizabeth had hoped, stimulating the interest of her inner-city students to find out what has happened to Lorenzo since the movie was made in 1992 (almost ten years before she showed it to her class). Some students did an online web based search, and discovered the Myelin Project, mentioned at the end of the film, is still active. They inspired Elizabeth to write to the Myelin Project, which resulted in this guidebook. Augusto Odone and his Assistant at The Myelin Project, Jacqueline, invited Elizabeth and her husband to lunch at the Odones’ home to discuss how to educate highschoolers about the nature and severity of the disease, often referred to as an ‘orphan’ disease due to the small number of people afflicted by it each year (1 in 30,000, about 300 cases per year). As a result, their story is available for use in your classroom as a way to engage students in the science as well as the ethical dilemmas presented in the film. Elizabeth has written a set of questions to guide discussion of the scientific issues raised by Lorenzo’s Oil, and her husband Jeffrey Spike (a bioethicist) has contributed discussion questions on the ethical issues. Why include the ethical questions? One of the points that the luncheon group agreed on was that it was the ethical issues as well as the scientific issues that provide the drama to the film. Another point of agreement was that science education would benefit from greater integration of ethical, legal, and social issues into the science content. We believe that bringing these issues up concurrently with the scientific issues helps students see the relevance of science to their lives. One of the...
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