2014 Big Ethical Question Slam Questions


  1. What are the central ethical issues involved with driverless cars?
  2. Several U.S. universities are establishing campuses in countries where academic freedom is nonexistent or highly restricted. What are the ethical dilemmas this poses for all of the institutions involved?
  3. What is ethically wrong with paying college athletes?
  4. Is it permissible for an animal shelter to sell animals for research?
  5. Suppose local officials in our community pass limit-setting restrictions on food and drink, similar to those passed during the Bloomberg administration in New York City. Why is that an ethical issue?
  6. What makes me obligated to respect others’ property? If someone wanted to steal my credit line to finance a necessary surgery, what moral claim do I have against that person?
  7. A firefighter working at a liquor store fire is assigned to remain on watch after it is knocked down. The health inspector has condemned the entire stock of liquor, and the contents of the store are going to be destroyed later that day. The firefighter finds two undamaged cases of liquor and takes them home.  Is it permissible to take the liquor if it was going to be destroyed anyway?
  8. Why shouldn’t we regard the purchase of health insurance by everyone as a civic duty?
  9. One of my favorite musicians used to be a drug dealer and a pimp. He is not apologetic, but regularly brags about it. If I buy his music, am I supporting drug dealing and prostitution?
  10. If a patient is violent, under what circumstances is it permissible for a health care professional to decline caring for that patient? 
  11. There are a lot of beneficial claims made for “personalized health care”--from online medicine, like website health advice--to medical profiling, like direct-to-consumer personal genetic testing. What are the possible ethical harms and benefits to society?
  12. When governments and the private sector make pension promises, they ought to fund them. What is the moral impact of NOT funding?
  13. I live in a city where the local government has passed an ordinance abolishing corporate personhood. What is ethically wrong with corporations having rights, including rights of free speech?
  14. Do you believe that individual and private ownership of ground and surface water is ethically justified?
  15. The parent of a child who needs an organ transplant knows that her child will not be able to get a transplant where she lives. Would the parent be justified in travelling abroad to buy an organ from a country that permits such commercial transactions?
  16. What should the responsibilities of crowdfundng platforms be toward donors and project creators when the project being funded is potentially harmful, e.g., a misogynistic book? Or if the crowdfunding project has a negative impact on existing institutions, e.g., asking to fund private security forces for city neighborhoods?
  17. Is it ethically acceptable for employers to restrict the health care choices of employees based on the employers’ values? 
  18. Should parents be permitted to determine what kind of medical treatment their children receive, based on their own values, which are, however, contrary to the physicians’ recommendations for treatment, e.g., rejecting vaccines, turning down chemotherapy in favor of homeopathic medicine.
  19. What are the moral limits of spying? Who decides these limits? Is there such a person as an ethical spy?
  20. When, if ever, is it ethically permissible to end diplomatic immunity of another nation’s representatives?
  21. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have created quite a buzz in education circles as ‘the next big thing.’ What is their ethical impact on the quality of, access to and cost of education?
  22. Is geoengineering an ethical response to the problem of climate change? What moral issues are raised by any deliberate manipulation of the climate system?
  23. What are the duties of a doctor in admitting mistakes or errors in patient treatment?
  24. Drones have many beneficial as well as harmful commercial uses. But in my mind, the public is not getting to discuss them. What should the public be thinking about in discussing the ethics of using drones for commercial purposes?

P.S. Our friends at The Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties  (MARL) in Winnipeg, Manitoba hosted their first Big Ethical Question Slam last month. Among the many excellent questions the organizers included in the Winnipeg Slam (our # 15 is from their competition) is a group of fun and wild questions they labeled as “zombie” questions. While we will not be using them for the A2Ethics’ 4th Big Ethical Question Slam, we thought we would share them with you as they pose very intriguing  and important ethical dilemmas.

Zombie Questions from Winnipeg, Manitoba Slam

  1. You are the Mayor of Winnipeg and you hear early reports of a zombie outbreak in Brandon that could possibly spread to Winnipeg. Do you inform the media and citizens of Winnipeg immediately, keeping in mind the possibility of creating a panic, or do you suppress the information temporarily while you organize a defence strategy for the city?
  2. Two years after the zombie apocalypse you and your band of survivors have managed to secure a small town and re-establish some semblance of a community there, protected from the zombies by a wall around the town. You have enough food and water to satisfy the needs of your group, but only just barely. Another group of survivors, about one quarter the size of your own group, has approached the gates and asks to be let in as their food and water supplies have dwindled. One of them appears to be quite ill, though it is not clear what the nature of their disease is or whether or not it is contagious or zombie-related. Do you let them in to your community or turn them away?
  3. You are the lead scientist specializing in zombieology and you have managed to isolate the virus that causes zombieism. You believe you are close to developing a vaccine (a preventative immunity and a cure for those infected) since you have had great success in experiments on infected rabbits and mice, which are the only animals available to you. Now you just have to make sure it will work in humans. You need to test it on humans who have been freshly infected with the virus but not yet become zombies. Without sufficient testing and refinement of the vaccine it is possible that the vaccine could actually zombiefy some healthy humans or simply not work at all. Given the short timeframe in which an infected person can be tested, the only realistic way to accomplish the testing is to intentionally infect someone and then administer the vaccine. You know how important the cure is but have reservations about testing it on healthy humans when it could potentially kill them, and ultimately might not work , even after multiple trials and refinements. What should you do?
  4. You live in a small condo complex and during the recent zombie apocalypse you and 8 of your neighbors have fortified the building and have been living inside in relative safety, hoping to survive until you are rescued. Unfortunately, the 11 year old daughter of one of your neighbors contracted pneumonia, died, and has come back as a zombie. The distraught father (whose wife was killed in the outbreak) has locked her in a bedroom. Despite the health, safety, and security concerns of the rest of the group, he insists on keeping her around because he cannot bear to have her “killed” again. He also seems to be clinging to a hope of a possible cure, though there has been no news of any such thing. He has promised to be vigilant in making sure she remains confined and has argued that as long as she stays confined, no one else has the right to kill her. Your neighbors worry that she might somehow get free and infect others, and that her moaning might attract more zombies from outside, and so they have come to you, the leader of the group and asked you to kill her for the safety of the community. Knowing that the father will object and will likely need to be subdued somehow to do this, what do you do?