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2016 Michigan High School Ethics Bowl Case Studies

The amazing schools and student teams in the 2016 Michigan High School Ethics Bowl have the opportunity to advance the dialogue on a range of complex and important ethical issues presented in this year's cases.

A distinguishing feature of the Michigan Bowl is that many of the case studies are contributed by people from different fields whose work regularly involves ethical dilemmas. In 2016,  eight of the twelve cases are written by community members, all of whom are working in Michigan or have a long-standing Michigan affiliation. Among the topics: environmental decision-making, workplace predicaments, medical dilemmas and personal relationship quandaries.

As always, each case is accompanied by some study questions to fire up the neurons and jumpstart discussions. And don't forget to take a look at the author bios and the helpful links highlighting their current work and interests. You may share some interests with the case writers.    

So...here they are...the Class of 2016 Case Studies.  

 

Case 1: The Wink

You’ve been looking forward to this party. It’s going to be a good time to let loose and forget the stresses of the week.

You arrive a little after eight and see your friend Mia, who is talking with some people you haven’t met before. You’ve known Mia since middle school.  You also know she never misses a party and enjoys having a good time. But then again, you enjoy a good time too.

You begin to mingle. And soon find this party has a limitless supply of alcohol and drugs. You have one beer and join in the dancing. You see that Mia has moved on; she is talking to a young man. You know he is an athlete at your school, but you can’t remember which sport. Mia seems to be enjoying herself as she puts down a cup that he immediately refills.

A stranger next to you comments: “There he goes again. If he gives her the right stuff to drink, he’s sure to get lucky!” You turn to see that the stranger is one of the athlete’s friends. He gives you a wink and walks away.

An hour later, you notice Mia again. This time she is sitting on the couch and doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself.. She looks as though she isn’t feeling well or has had a little too much to drink. You watch her as the same man helps Mia up from the couch and begins guiding her up the stairs. She doesn’t seem to be resisting, but then again, she doesn’t seem to be standing on her own two feet. You think to yourself that either he is taking her upstairs to lie down or Mia is playing helpless to be alone with him.

You decide it isn’t your business and rejoin the party. The next day, Facebook is abuzz with Mia’s accusations that she was raped last night.

Study questions:

1. What kind of relationship do you have with Mia? How does this relationship bear on your ethical responsibilities to her?

2. When you are uncertain of the consequences your actions will bring about, how should they affect the conclusions you draw? For instance, if you think there is a 75% chance Mia is safe and a 25% chance she is in danger, what should you do?

3. Does the fact that alcohol may have impaired your judgment make you more or less blameworthy for your failure to look out for Mia than you would have been if you were sober?

4. You mistakenly believed that Mia was safe when she was led up the stairs. To what extent does your ignorance excuse you from blame for the consequences of your failure to act?

Author:  Amos N. Guiora is currently professor of law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. He is a Research Associate/Fellow at several centers: the University of Oxford, Oxford Institute of Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict; the International Institute on Counter-Terrorism,  The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzylia, Israel; and the Netherlands School of Human Rights Research, University of Utrecht School of Law. Amos has written several books on issues related to national security, limits of interrogation, religion and terrorism, multiculturalism and human rights.  He is currently writing a book on the legal issues involving bystanders.  Amos hails from Ann Arbor and returns in the fall of each year to attend all University of Michigan football games at the Big House.  

Case 2: The Nudge

Steve is in charge of employee wellness at his company. The flu vaccination policy at his company is an “opt-in”: employees are required to schedule their own appointment to receive a flu vaccine. Knowing that people have a tendency to stick with default options and choices, Steve changes the company flu vaccination policy to require employees to “opt-out.” Employees now receive an email from the occupational health department informing them about when and where their vaccination is scheduled. They have the option of calling to cancel or rescheduling their appointment. After implementing the new opt-out policy, Steve finds out that employee vaccination rates have gone from 30% last year to 45% this year.

Steve’s decision to change the flu vaccination policy is an example of “nudging.” Nudging is typically a reference to evidence-based insights, usually from the behavioral sciences, about how people make decisions. The nudge insight is used to design how a given choice is presented in a policy to make certain choices or behavior more likely. Steve used the evidence for “the status quo bias” to try to make it more likely that employees would get their annual flu vaccinations.

Nudges can be used in different contexts. Examples include: changing product placements to influence purchasing decisions; making retirement savings opt-out rather than opt-in to increase them; and etching the image of a housefly onto urinals to improve sanitation by improving “the aim” of men using the restroom. Nudging has been used by a variety of organizations, including businesses and nonprofits as well as the governments of the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. Nudging can be motivated by any number of reasons: a government might use it to increase the number of organ donors, while businesses might use nudging to increase sales and profits.

Proponents argue that nudges are relatively nonintrusive, keeping a person’s ability to freely make a decision intact. Opponents, however, argue that nudges usually work because they are intrusive in some way. An example of an intrusive nudge often cited by opponents is “Toxic Release Inventories,” used to reduce polluting by companies. Such Inventories are government-mandated public records of what hazardous chemicals a company is storing or releasing into the environment. For nudging advocates, the government simply requires companies to publish Toxic Release Inventories, and as a result is relatively nonintrusive. Opponents counter that this nudge only works because the media and environmental groups use these reports to create “environmental blacklists” to put intense public pressure on a blacklisted company to reduce their pollution, making this nudge quite intrusive.   

Study questions:

1. Was it ethical for Steve to change the flu vaccination policy from opt-in to opt-out? Explain why or why not.

2. Does nudging wrongfully violate individuals’ autonomy? Explain how it does or does not.

3. Under what conditions is it appropriate to use nudging? Under what conditions is it inappropriate? Does who is doing the nudging (e.g., government, business, or nonprofit) affect whether nudging is appropriate or not? Give justifications for your responses.

4. Does nudging have to be intentional, or does anyone who creates a decision context (e.g., Steve’s flu vaccination policy) become a “nudger” whether they mean to or not? Justify your response.

Author:  Aaron Scherer, PhD, earned his PhD in Psychology from the University of Iowa and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow with the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan. Aaron is a social psychologist who utilizes a variety of methodologies to study the antecedents and consequences of biased beliefs, focusing on beliefs related to health and politics. He has published on a variety of topics among them: political stereotypes about psychological differences between conservatives and liberals; the use of metaphors to influence vaccination intentions; and confirmatory information seeking following arbitrary decisions. Every once in a while, Aaron tries to be cool and post about politics, medicine or research on Twitter

 

Case 3: Transgender Health Coverage and Medicaid

Transgender people self-identify with a gender different from the one society assigns to them at birth. For example, a transgender person might self-identify as male despite having been raised female. Cisgender people, in contrast, self-identify with the same gender society assigns to them at birth. Some transgender people suffer greatly from the discontinuity between their gender identity and their physical features. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (2013) refers to this condition as “gender dysphoria.” Treatments include surgery and hormone therapies, which may help a transgender person’s outward appearance to match their internal identity.

New York State recently added coverage for transgender care under Medicare and Medicaid.1  The coverage includes psychological counseling and hormone therapy as well as some surgical procedures. However, the limits of this coverage are uncertain; for example, it is unclear if procedures such as breast augmentation and hair removal are covered.

Proponents of this change consider it a major victory for transgender inclusion, enabling especially vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community to access services that they would otherwise be unable to afford. Moreover, proponents hope that providing treatment will help transgender people feel less distress, thereby reducing the unusually high rate of suicide attempts in this community.2

Those who oppose this change argue that these procedures, like other cosmetic procedures, are all elective, and should not be paid for with tax dollars.3 For example, cisgender women may experience relief after undergoing breast augmentation, but this procedure is not covered by Medicaid. Moreover, including transgender care will raise the cost for Medicaid in NY by an estimated $6,737,000.4  Instead of expanding coverage for these procedures, opponents argue that the state should use scarce medical resources to treat more serious medical problems and diseases.

http://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-proposed-regula...

2 http://articles.latimes.com/2014/jan/28/local/la-me-ln-suicide-attempts-...

3 http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2014/12/8558382/insurers-ra...

4  https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/recently_adopted/docs/2015-03-11_t...

Study questions:

1. Should gender dysphoria be considered a psychological problem or a physical problem? Does your answer to this question change your views on the medical treatment it requires?

2. Is there a morally relevant difference between a cisgender and a transgender woman’s desires to have breast augmentation? What if both desire the procedure in order to better conform to society’s (problematic) expectations surrounding women’s physical appearance?

3. Which kinds of medical treatment should be paid for using tax dollars? Should only life-saving treatments be included, or should we also include treatments that merely enhance people’s wellbeing?

Authors: Written by the 2015-2016 National High School Ethics Bowl Regional Case Set Committee Members.

 

Case 4: Paying A Ransom to Save Your Family

In 2014, ISIS posted a video of its adherents beheading James Foley, a captured American journalist. Although the United States attempted to rescue Foley and others, it maintains a strict policy of not paying ransoms for hostages.1 One of the main arguments supporting this policy is that paying ransom not only incentivizes the taking of hostages, but also funds future heinous acts undertaken by the hostage-takers. An argument against this policy is that it fails to respect the value of innocent lives taken by groups like ISIS.

Recently, it was revealed that the American government not only refuses to pay ransoms for hostages, but also legally threatens those who might try to do so, including the Foley family.2 The rationale for this policy is that, if private citizens paid ransoms, then they would bring about many of the same harms as public officials, albeit to a lesser degree. However, not everybody is in favor of applying this policy to public officials and private citizens alike. For example, Diane Foley said, “I was surprised there was so little compassion.” According to Michael Foley, this policy hampered the Foley family’s efforts to save James. “It slowed my parents down quite a bit. They didn’t want to do anything that could get them in trouble. It slowed them down for months in raising money. Who knows what might have happened?” In other words, some argue, even if the U.S. government has a policy against paying ransom for hostages, this restriction should not apply to private individuals.

More recently, the government announced that it will not threaten to prosecute families who try to pay ransoms for family members who are taken hostage.3 As President Obama said, “These families have suffered enough, and they should never feel ignored or victimized by their own government.”4

1 https://news.yahoo.com/officials-us-rescue-mission-syria-failed-22315793...

2 http://abcnews.go.com/International/government-threatened-foley-family-r...

3 http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/06/23/u-s-gove... could-face-criminal-prosecution-for-paying-ransom/

4 http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/06/24/417160008/u-s-clarifie...

Study questions:

1. Is it morally justifiable for the government to refuse to pay ransoms when doing so would save the lives of hostages?

2. Assuming it has a policy against paying ransoms for hostages, is it morally justifiable for the government to enforce this policy on its own citizens when they try to pay ransoms?

3. Does the fact that ransom payments will likely contribute to further violence by hostage-takers make it morally impermissible for families to pay for the release of family members taken hostage? Why or why not?

4. If a public official or private citizen were confident that he or she could pay a ransom secretly, so that the money would secretly but not openly support violence by hostage-takers, would that change your view about the morality of paying the ransom? Justify your answer.

Authors: Written by the 2015-2016 National High School Ethics Bowl Regional Case Set Committee Members.

 

Case 5: Lolita the Lonely Whale

On August 8, 1970, a capture team outfitted with speedboats and rifles drove more than 80 Southern Resident killer whales into Penn Cove, located in Washington State’s Puget Sound. Seven young orcas were separated from the group, netted, and removed from the ocean. The team’s leaders — Ted Griffin and Don Goldsberry — eventually sold the orcas into the billion-dollar marine park industry. An additional four juveniles and one female adult orca died during the struggle. Griffin and Goldsberry attempted to cover up the deaths by weighing down and sinking the bodies, but they eventually washed up on shore. The public outcry regarding the incident led to a law banning the capture of marine wildlife in Puget Sound.

Lolita is the only surviving orca taken from Puget Sound. She has spent over three decades performing, seven days a week, at Miami Seaquarium. Her home is about the size of a hotel swimming pool, which prevents her from engaging in many normal activities such as hunting for food, swimming 75-100 miles per day, using sonar, and living in community with other orcas. Lolita originally had another Southern Resident killer whale named Hugo as a tank mate, but Hugo died of an aneurysm in 1980. Lolita’s isolation has led many to call her “the loneliest orca on the planet.” Indeed, her tank does not meet USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service requirements stipulated by law. The Seaquarium has been promising to build a new tank since 1979.

A global coalition of activists, including marine biologists, has long advocated for Lolita’s retirement and release back into Puget Sound, where she can rejoin her family. Killer whales have extremely strong family bonds. Offspring stay with their mothers for life. It is likely, although not guaranteed, that Lolita’s family would allow her to rejoin the group. The Washington State-based Center for Whale Research has developed a plan that would prepare Lolita to return to the wild. She would spend time in a protected, netted-off cove in Puget Sound while being taught how to hunt for food, experiencing the rhythms of the sea, and listening to the vocalizations of her family. Orcas are actually large dolphins, and many captive dolphins have been successfully released back into the wild.

Seaquarium staff say that Lolita is happy and healthy and believe that releasing her back into the ocean would be cruel. They caution that she may encounter the same fate as Keiko, the orca who starred in the movie "Free Willy." Keiko was reportedly rejected by other wild killer whales, although he was never able to reunite with his biological family. Seaquarium subsequently filed a permit to re-capture Keiko, allegedly for breeding purposes with Lolita. Keiko died of pneumonia about a year after his release.

Study questions:

1. Should Lolita be released back to the wild? Does the fact that we cannot be certain she will be accepted by her family affect your judgment about this?

2. Is it ethical for humans to capture wild animals for the purpose of making money? Is there an ethical difference between capturing wild animals and raising animals in captivity?

3. Some people claim that theme parks like Seaquarium and SeaWorld are good because they educate the public about wildlife. Do you find this argument convincing?

Author: Mary Hubl lives in Ann Arbor. She telecommutes from her home office to Omaha, Nebraska-based company Vic Gutman & Associates, where Mary is vice president, nonprofit services. She assists nonprofit organizations with grant writing and developing/implementing fundraising programs. Mary has a BA in French and international relations from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA in international politics and economics and modern European history from George Washington University. She also enjoys yoga, reading, traveling and competing in triathlons, as well as spending time with her two teenage sons and husband. Mary is a passionate animal advocate and volunteers as a cat comforter at the Humane Society of Huron Valley.

 

Case 6: Visiting Mr. X

Mr. X is a 75-year-old white male with lung cancer that has spread to his bones and spine.  He is living in his own home and his wife of 50 years is trying to provide care for him. Because he is expected to die within six months, he has begun to receive hospice care. The hospice team — which includes a nurse, a social worker, a chaplain,  and a hospice aide — have all met him and are working to try to keep him as comfortable as possible.  He is a man of few words and has very little to say to the nurse or social worker, and he has told the chaplain that he really doesn’t need any spiritual help.

The hospice aide on the team is assigned to visit Mr. X three times per week to assist him with showering. When the aide first arrives, Mr. X is rude and uncooperative. After the aide leaves, the supervisor receives a call from Mr. X’s wife. She requests a different aide for future home visits, as it seems to Mr. X and his wife that the aide does not understand their needs. The supervisor listens, agreeing to make a change; sometimes, personalities clash and an arrangement just isn’t a good fit.

The second aide makes a visit. Again the patient is very rude, this time directing racial slurs toward the aide.  This aide completes her work and goes home. She dreads the next visit, but decides not to say anything to her supervisor. Two days later, the aide finds Mr. X even more vocal. He asks her why the agency is sending such horrible people to care for him, and he continues to use racial slurs and other inappropriate language.

After this visit, the aide calls her supervisor and explains the situation from her perspective.  At almost the same time, Mr. X’s wife calls and again requests a different aide.  The supervisor asks why they are making this request. The wife repeatedly says that the aides sent so far did not seem to understand her husband.

Both aides assigned to the home of Mr. X are African-American.  The supervisor suspects, especially after hearing from the second aide, that the patient is racist. Through further investigation, the supervisor finds that Mr. X had used the same language with his first aide, but the aide was afraid that if she complained, she might lose her job.

The supervisor does not want to condone such abusive behavior toward staff, but she also does not want to change aide assignments because of race.  She is also concerned that such behavior may be tolerated because of fears over job security.

Study questions:

1. What is the appropriate thing for the supervisor to do?

2. How tolerant should healthcare workers be of patients’ disrespectful or offensive speech or behavior? Does the fact that a patient is elderly or dying make a difference here?

3. Suppose Mr. X is in fact racist. Would it be ethical to assign a white aide to him for this reason?

 

Author: Teri Turner, RN, MS, CHPN is currently Director of Clinical Services at Arbor Hospice. She has been involved in the specialty of hospice care for 23 years. Teri has wide-ranging experience in international health care and a special interest in the impact of culture on health. After graduating from the University of Michigan with an MS in Health Services Administration, she accepted a post in the Middle East and worked there for almost a decade. She routinely serves as a guest lecturer at the University of Michigan Schools of Social Work and Public Health; as a presenter at clinical and volunteer service conferences for the Michigan Hospice and Palliative Care Association; and as an invited speaker to international hospice seminars, most recently in Yokohama, Japan. She has also been a member of Ethics Committees, including St. Joseph Mercy Hospital as well as Arbor Hospice. Along with her colleagues from Arbor Hospice, Teri has been an early supporter of A2Ethics initiatives, among them the annual Big Ethical Question Slam, in which the Arbor Hospice Ethics team has appeared four times. In 2015, Arbor Hospice Ethics won the Slam, going on to represent the United States in the first (and probably only) International Big Ethical Question Slam-Off with the champion Slammers from Winnipeg, Canada.  

 

Case 7: In Confidence

Danilo has been unhappy in his current job. He feels that advancement opportunities are very limited and, if they exist at all, will be too far in the future. Over the past year, he has thought very hard about alternatives. Three months ago, Danilo made the decision to actively look for better opportunities, though he has kept this secret from his employer. In the meantime, he has continued to perform well in his current position.

Danilo’s manager, Cindy, thinks highly of Danilo and believes he has great potential to develop as a colleague and future manager. Both to recognize Danilo’s potential and to enrich his skills, Cindy signs him up for an out-of-town, weeklong seminar at substantial cost to the company.

Danilo has had several interviews with a high-performing company for a position that closely fits with his career aspirations.  A recent phone discussion with this company indicated a very strong interest in hiring Danilo. While no formal offer has yet been made, based upon this conversation he is highly confident that a formal offer will be extended within the next 48 hours. However, the details of the offer are unknown.

The seminar is in two days. Travel, lodging and some meals are all part of the cost of sending Danilo to the seminar. Theoretically, another colleague could be sent in Danilo’s place, and such a colleague would be available. While the cost of the seminar is non-refundable, there is still time to cancel the plane tickets and lodging arrangements. Danilo is trying to decide whether to confide in Cindy so that other arrangements can be made.

Study Questions:

1. Should Danilo tell Cindy about his other job prospects? Does the fact that he isn’t sure he will be offered the new job — and that he isn’t sure how Cindy would respond to the news — ethically relevant here?

2. If Danilo does tell Cindy about his new job prospects, how should Cindy respond?

3. Is it ethical for employers to treat their employees differently because they know they are looking for other jobs? Is it ethical for employees to look for other jobs without informing their current employers? How do these two questions relate to one another?

Author: Michael L. Michon is the Plymouth District President of the Bank of Ann Arbor. He has worked in the banking industry for thirty-three years. He has a BA in Philosophy from the University of Michigan. His MBA is from Central Michigan University. Mike enjoys hiking and golf. 

 

Case 8: Superior Knowledge

Manifex Saltmarsh is a dealer in used books and has been for many years, affording him an expertise in his field that his customers often lack. Unlike some of his competitors, he usually tries to be fair in his dealings with people who bring him their books to sell. As a businessman, however, he is often forced to disappoint them. Most people believe that their books are more valuable than they are, and he cannot pay them the retail price and hope to make a profit for himself. Sometimes, however, customers underestimate the value of what they are selling.

One day an elderly widow appeared at Saltmarsh Rare and Unusual Books with several boxes of books. The books had belonged to her husband, who had died several years earlier. The majority of his books had been donated to the university library or sold at a yard sale. The widow was a longtime customer and, after a cursory examination showed the books to be unremarkable, Saltmarsh accepted them in trade for a copy of The Joy of Cooking. He did this mostly as a way to help the widow rid herself of the last of her husband’s collection rather than from any hope of material gain.

That night, however, as he readied the volumes for sale on his dollar cart, one of them caught his eye. As he priced a battered copy of The New York Times Guide to the Bars of Moscow, he dimly remember having read something about this title some time ago. Hours later, he finally found a reference in Bookman’s Digest to an embarrassing misprint in the first edition that caused the touchy Times publisher to destroy most of the first printing. As a result, the few copies that survived were immensely valuable.

With trembling hands, Saltmarsh examined page 407, realizing that there was little chance that his copy was one of the valuable ones. But there it was: a reference to a cartoon character painted on the wall of a Russian speakeasy as “Porky the Pig” rather than “Porky Pig.” The value of the book had been conservatively estimated in Bookman’s Digest at several million dollars and would no doubt have increased greatly over time.

The widow of the philosophy professor was a wealthy woman, having collected a tidy sum in insurance and a legal settlement when her husband died. Saltmarsh, however, was practically destitute and in danger of losing his business. Selling the book would allow him to keep the bookstore open and would make him financially secure for the rest of his life.

Study Questions:

1. Is it ethical for Saltmarsh to keep all the proceeds from the sale of the book, or should he share with the widow?  Does the fact that Saltmarsh needs the money more than the widow make a difference here?

2. Would it have been ethical for Saltmarsh to make the trade if he had known the value of the book at the time of the transaction? Does the fact that Saltmarsh needs the money more than the widow make a difference here?

3. Do buyers with superior knowledge have an ethical obligation to share that knowledge with sellers when doing so is not in the buyers’ financial interest?

 

Author: Jamie Agnew is the co-owner, with his wife Robin, of the award-winning Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookshop in Ann Arbor. Jamie and Robin are also strong supporters and contributors to the popular annual Kerrytown Bookfest

 

Case 9: The Modern Debtors’ Prison

In colonial times, people who were unable to pay court-ordered fines went to debtors’ prison. In 1833, a federal law ended the practice of jailing people who failed to pay off debts. Recently, the term “debtors’ prison” has resurfaced, referring to the punishment for people, often from underprivileged backgrounds, who are arrested and jailed for failure to pay their legal fees after being convicted of a crime; who have unpaid fines and fees for traffic violations and other low-level offenses; or who fall behind on payments.1

Civil rights activists claim that these people are being “locked up for being poor.” They say that impoverished people face harsher treatment than others who commit the same crimes but can afford to pay. In addition, defendants and offenders are charged for many government services that were once free, including those that are constitutionally required.2  For example, defendants can be charged for using a public defender, for room and board while imprisoned, for probation and parole supervision, and for the electronic monitoring devices they are forced to wear. Some courts charge extra fees such as penalties for missed payments, which can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars. Although there are sometimes alternatives to paying fines, like community service or limited jail time, even these alternatives can cost up to $500.

Alexes Harris, a sociologist at the University of Washington, says the people mostly likely to face arrest and go through the courts “tend to be people of color, African-Americans and Latinos, they tend to be high school dropouts, they tend to be people with mental illness, with substance abuse. So these are already very poor and marginalized people in our society.”3  When people miss payments, they violate the terms of their probation. Penalties can include losing their driver’s licenses, food stamps, housing, or the right to vote, imposing a new set of hardships. People who need to drive to their jobs, for example, risk getting stopped for driving without a license, going back to jail, and getting slammed with more fines. Those who don’t risk driving without a license find it harder to get to their jobs or public assistance programs.

Some communities argue that the collected fees and fines pay for public services for disadvantaged communities. Furthermore, some argue that no one should break the law in the first place–especially those who cannot pay the fines. Others claim that all those who break the law should be treated equally, and that penalties should be imposed regardless of financial status. It would be unfair to let some criminals get away with their behavior while others are punished. The system of imposing fines and penalties can also be viewed as a deterrent, meaning that it discourages people from committing crimes in the future.

1 https://www.aclu.org/issues/racial-justice/race-and-criminal-justice/deb...

2 http://www.npr.org/2014/05/19/312158516/increasing-court-fees-punish-the...

3 http://www.npr.org/2014/05/19/312158516/increasing-court-fees-punish-the...

Study questions:

1. What are the circumstances, if any, under which it would be morally permissible to put people in jail for failing to pay their debts?

2. The case states that people imprisoned for failing to pay these sorts of fees tend to be undereducated minorities who are sometimes mentally ill. Do these factors influence whether it is morally acceptable to imprison people for failing to pay these sorts of fees? Explain your reasoning.

3. How should we balance considerations that justify imposing fines with concerns about the unjust treatment of poor and marginalized people?

Authors: Written by the 2015-2016 National High School Ethics Bowl Regional Case Set Committee Members.

 

Case 10: Earning Real Paper

Until last year, you were a math teacher at a Michigan public school. Because of budget cuts, you were laid off. You took a job at a “virtual school,” resulting in a fifty percent pay cut. Your new position also requires spending two hours each weeknight online in case a student needs to reach you.

You often find it difficult to connect with students, but you have formed a relationship with Luis. Luis is a friendly student who emails you often. He struggles with math, and he has shared his frustrations about how his older sister gets excellent math grades at her traditional public school. He also has divulged some of his frustrations with his home life, hinting that his father is in jail and his mother a drug abuser.

Eager to connect with students, you always reply to his emails, offering advice and friendly encouragement. You also accept his Facebook friend request. Luis gives you his number and the two of you text, mostly about math homework.

In October, you give an assessment designed to measure student progress. Luis performs very poorly. The next day is the chapter test. To your surprise, Luis scores 100%. Over the next two weeks, Luis’ grades are all above 95%.  Around the same time, Luis posts an odd Facebook status, saying “school is for punks” and he is “earning real paper.”

Luis’ grades continue to be in the “A” range. He has stopped emailing you. You believe his sister is taking his tests for him. From some Facebook posts, you suspect that he is involved in a gang and that his mother has disappeared from the home.

Study questions:

1. What is your responsibility to Luis? Do you try to contact his home? Do you contact your supervisor? Protective Services? The police?

2. Should teachers engage with their students on social media? Is it ever appropriate for a teacher to text or become Facebook friends with students?

3. What is your duty to your school? Is it up to you to prove that enrolled students are turning in their own work rather than getting other people to do the work for them?

4. How might a large pay cut affect a person’s sense of professional obligation? Should this consideration be taken into account when employers are deciding whether to save money by cutting wages?

 

Author: Patti Smith is a former lawyer and a special education teacher. She has been a public speaker her whole adult life--in debate, in moot court, as a storyteller and has recently begun dabbling in improv. Last year, Patti's first (and hopefully not last) book was published by Arcadia Publishers, Images of America: Downtown Ann Arbor. She has also finished a young adult series about three kids who live in Detroit. Patti is on the board of A2Geeks, writes for Concentrate and Mittenbrew, works with the People's Food Co-op, and volunteers with 826Michigan. Patti lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and their cats. Recently, she finished a young adult book series about three kids who live in Detroit. 

 

Case 11: The Gold King Mine Disaster

Legal authority and responsibility for managing environmental hazards lies with the Environmental Protection Agency. Beginning in the 1990s, the EPA sought to address the toxic leaking of water contaminated with heavy metals from the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado. The contaminated water was flowing into the Animas River, putting the health of humans and wildlife at risk. The EPA suggested naming the mine a site of the EPA’s Superfund program, which funds long-term projects to address environmental hazards that local communities and corporations cannot handle on their own.1

The community around the river refused the Superfund designation because the local economy is based on outdoor recreation tourism, and they did not want to discourage visitors and mine developers. However, since toxins were continuing to leak and had already killed all the fish in a tributary of the Animas, the EPA decided to address the issue without the additional funding and authority provided by a Superfund designation.

The EPA hired a professional group specializing in mine cleanup to assess the site, including the clay dam plug holding back water contaminated with metal tailings from the mine. Given the poor condition of the dam, one of the recommendations from this assessment was to build a retention pond to capture any tailings in case the dam were to break. Because the mine was not a Superfund site, the EPA asked the State of Colorado to fund this construction. However, the funding was not approved.

As a result, on August 5, 2015, the dam burst, releasing three million gallons of contaminated water.2 A dramatic orange plume laced with arsenic, cadmium and other heavy metals made its way down the Animas River into the San Juan River and eventually into Lake Powell, part of the Colorado River system. Local residents, recreation seekers, ranchers, and businesses were told to avoid touching, drinking, or using the water until weeks later, when testing showed the dangerous chemicals had dissipated. Bottled water had to be trucked in. Businesses closed temporarily or permanently. There is now concern that contaminated sediment settled at the bottom of the Animas River may cause long-term health problems for fish, other wildlife, and the people who depend on it for drinking water. The EPA has accepted responsibility for this incident.

In addition to the clay plug in the Gold King Mine, there are several other plugged mines in the same mountain or the same water system that are considered likely to burst at some point in the future. There are 22,000 abandoned mines in Colorado and over 500,000 nationwide. Not all are immediate public health and environmental threats, but it is unclear how many and how significant the threats are.

http://www.epa.gov/superfund/about.htm

2 http://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2015/08/11/officials-downstream-f...

 

Study questions:

1. Was it morally permissible for community members to lobby against Superfund status, delaying efforts to stop the leakage of contaminated water from the Gold King Mine?

2. Should the EPA have gone ahead in establishing the Gold King Mine as a Superfund site twenty years ago in spite of the local community’s lack of support?

3. Should the EPA require local approval for Superfund designations when the environmental and public health impact of the hazard reaches far beyond the local community (i.e. downstream)?

Author: Inger Schultz is a writer with a background in chemical and environmental engineering. She has worked in the corporate world and has served as a consultant in the field of public water supply systems. Inger has a longstanding concern for preserving access to clean water. She has also been an early advocate for environmental education. In her role as development officer, she helped raise monies for the University of Michigan Nichols Arboretum's Reader Urban Environmental Education Center. Further, she co-founded the popular Shakespeare in the Arb theatre program and the Youth Strings Ensembles at the Community Music School of Ann Arbor. Her interest in the arts extends to her work in fundraising for the Arthur Miller Theatre at the U-M School for Music, Theater and Dance

 

Case 12: Selecting for Deafness

Andre and Leslie want to have a child. They decide to use a process called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). In a 2006 story, the New York Times explained PGD as a process in which “embryos are created in a test tube and their DNA is analyzed before being transferred to a woman’s uterus. In this manner, embryos destined to have, for example, cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s disease can be excluded, and only healthy embryos implanted.”1 Andre and Leslie, however, wish to use PGD to select for a disability: Andre and Leslie are deaf and want to have a child who will grow up immersed in Deaf culture, who understands the experience of Deafness, and who communicates using sign language.

Some of their friends strongly object to their plan but find it hard to explain exactly what is wrong with selecting for deafness. Others argue that Andre and Leslie are compromising their child’s future by trying to engineer their deafness and that knowingly and willingly bringing someone into the world under these conditions is wrong. But Andre and Leslie respond that no child is born with a perfect future, and yet very few people think that having children is wrong in general. Many children are born into families whose circumstances are challenging and in which opportunities may be limited, yet few would claim that these parents acted immorally by having children.

In fact, Andre and Leslie argue that their child would have a better life if born deaf because they would be in a better position to parent this child, and because the family would experience the world in similar ways. Andre and Leslie also explain that they are not harming anyone by creating a deaf child. After all, since they are choosing which of several frozen embryos to bring to term, a different person will come into existence depending on which choice they make. How could they be harming their deaf child when the alternative is that the embryo remains frozen and the child is never born at all?

 

1 http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/05/health/05essa.html?_r=0  

 

Study Questions:

1. Can we harm or benefit a child by bringing him or her into existence? Why or why not?

2. If parents have the power to decide which of two people will come into existence, and if they know that one of these people will have a better life than the other, do they have a moral obligation to choose the person who will have a better life? Why or why not?

3. What is the relationship between disability and wellbeing? All else equal, is it better to be born without a disability than with one? Why or why not? How do we define which traits count as disabilities?

4. In the case above, the parents are selecting an embryo with naturally occurring deafness. Compare the ethics of this situation with the ethics of a situation where parents want to make non-deaf embryo deaf.

Authors: Written by the 2015-2016 National High School Ethics Bowl Regional Case Set Committee Members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Case 12: Selecting for Deafness

 

Andre and Leslie want to have a child. They decide to use a process called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). In a 2006 story, the New York Times explained PGD as a process in which “embryos are created in a test tube and their DNA is analyzed before being transferred to a woman’s uterus. In this manner, embryos destined to have, for example, cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s disease can be excluded, and only healthy embryos implanted.”1 Andre and Leslie, however, wish to use PGD to select for a disability: Andre and Leslie are deaf and want to have a child who will grow up immersed in Deaf culture, who understands the experience of Deafness, and who communicates using sign language.

 

Some of their friends strongly object to their plan but find it hard to explain exactly what is wrong with selecting for deafness. Others argue that Andre and Leslie are compromising their child’s future by trying to engineer their deafness and that knowingly and willingly bringing someone into the world under these conditions is wrong. But Andre and Leslie respond that no child is born with a perfect future, and yet very few people think that having children is wrong in general. Many children are born into families whose circumstances are challenging and in which opportunities may be limited, yet few would claim that these parents acted immorally by having children.

 

In fact, Andre and Leslie argue that their child would have a better life if born deaf because they would be in a better position to parent this child, and because the family would experience the world in similar ways. Andre and Leslie also explain that they are not harming anyone by creating a deaf child. After all, since they are choosing which of several frozen embryos to bring to term, a different person will come into existence depending on which choice they make. How could they be harming their deaf child when the alternative is that the embryo remains frozen and the child is never born at all?

 

1 http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/05/health/05essa.html?_r=0  

 

Study Questions:

1. Can we harm or benefit a child by bringing him or her into existence? Why or why not?

2. If parents have the power to decide which of two people will come into existence, and if they know that one of these people will have a better life than the other, do they have a moral obligation to choose the person who will have a better life? Why or why not?

3. What is the relationship between disability and wellbeing? All else equal, is it better to be born without a disability than with one? Why or why not? How do we define which traits count as disabilities?

4. In the case above, the parents are selecting an embryo with naturally occurring deafness. Compare the ethics of this situation with the ethics of a situation where parents want to make non-deaf embryo deaf.