The 2015 International Slam-Off Questions

There are 20 questions the two teams will be preparing for. In addition, there are two questions that are for the judges...based on a sci fi theme. 

1. For similar reasons that parents are legally and ethically obliged to take care of their children, it seems that once they are adults, the children should be legally and ethically obliged to take care of their aging parents.

2. Should a pregnant woman with a substance addiction be incarcerated or held involuntarily at a medical institution in order to protect the health of her unborn child?

3. Consider the gay blood ban and the government’s position on pausing citizenship applications and denying visas to people who come from ebola-affected countries. These could be considered instances where the government or policy maker has decided to implement discriminatory policies which bow to public perceptions of a risk to health and safety, but which are not supported by scientific evidence. What are the ethical issues in this practice?

4. Is it unethical for a person who is HIV positive to either lie to a prospective sex partner or to omit to tell them about it, if the person is on anti-retroviral medication and has such a low vial load that the possibility of transmitting the virus to a partner is “vanishingly small”? Consider the issues of stigma, privacy, and the fear around contracting HIV which is not scientifically supported.  

5. Imagine that a new short term truth serum has been developed that is proven to be 100% reliable at ensuring that someone who is injected with it will tell (what they understand to be) the truth. The government wants to make a law that anyone who is accused with a crime must be given the truth serum and answer questions from the police. The reason for this proposal is that it will quickly and reliably determine who is innocent and who is guilty, saving substantial resources on police investigations and court trial procedures, as well as preventing wrongful convictions of the innocent. Shall we support the government in their proposed truth serum law?

6. Jane is driving late at night in a sparse rural neighbourhood. No one appears to be around and it is a very clear night. She approaches a stop sign at a four way intersection, slowing only slightly to allow her to carefully look and see if anyone else was coming. She sees no one runs the stop sign. By doing this she has certainly broken the law, but given that no one was hurt and she was reasonably sure there was no risk of harm, has she acted unethically?

7. Joe works at a grocery store and is about to throw out the day’s unsold baked goods, as per store policy. Instead, he takes some of the product and puts it in his bag to take home. His co-worker Sarah sees this and chides him for stealing. Joe’s response is that “maybe it is technically theft but since it was just going in the garbage anyway it is a victimless crime, and victimless crimes aren’t unethical.” Do you agree with this? (Would it make a difference if Joe was going to donate the baked goods to a homeless shelter?)

8. In North America we can expect the right to trial by a jury of our peers. Do First Nations' people have the right to expect at least one "Treaty" person on any/all juries that they might have to face?

9. A woman learns she has cancer and that must have her ovaries removed. She and her husband wanted to have a child, so she had several eggs extracted and fertilized with his sperm before her surgery to be stored for later implantation. Unfortunately, after the surgery the couple has a falling out and they get a divorce. The woman would still like to have a child that is genetically connected to her and seeks to implant one of the embryos created with her ex-husband’s DNA. He objects to this and wants them destroyed since he only wants to have a child with someone who he is in a committed relationship with. What should be done with the embryos? 

10. Organ donation is an important issue as there are always shortages and people dying while on the waiting list for one. Many people agree with donating their organs but never get around to signing a donation card. Therefore, to address this issue we should change the system so that when a person dies, if their organs are still healthy, donation is automatic unless they completed an opt-out form while they were alive. Do you agree? 

11. We can easily imagine a future when 3-D printers are purchased by anyone and everyone,  allowing them to create products that are both benign and malicious. Can you come up with arguments for 2 products for which it would be unethical to give opportunities for anyone to make with a 3-D printer?

12. Kiefer lives in area experiencing extreme drought. His family has taken voluntary measures to restrict their water usage—taking one shower a week and pouring used pasta water on the garden. His neighbor, a few doors away, however, routinely waters his lawn and sprays down his sidewalk. Kiefer has spoken with his neighbor about conserving water. His response: “It is my yard and my choice about how to best conserve water. Why don’t you complain to the farmers? They use most of our water.” In Kiefer’s opinion, his neighbor seems oblivious to the dire situation the community is facing. Without his knowledge, Kiefer takes photos of his neighbor watering his lawn and posts them online. 

13. “Sharing” economy businesses, most prominent among them--Airbnb, Uber and TaskRabbit--are among the hottest investments for technology entrepreneurs.  What are the moral benefits and harms for the individuals who offer time, skills or assets to their peers in this type of business model? Is it a model that is fair to the various people involved in it?  

14. Lois has been saving to go on a snorkeling and scuba diving trip to the coral reefs in Trinidad and Tobago. On the trip, she meets another snorkeling enthusiast. They hit it off. On the last day, they decide to make a brief stop at another popular diving site. On the plane, Lois’s new friend shows her a piece from the coral reefs that she stashed away in her purse to take home.

15. Knowing as we do that there are all different sorts of data collected and retained on our activities, should cars be equipped to monitor speed and other indicators of safe driving, so the data retained for these purposes can be used by authorities following a ticket we receive or a crash that we are involved in?

16. In 1985, a petition was circulated to many university physics departments in the U.S. advocating the end of the Reagan Administration’s plans for a missile defense system known as “Star Wars.”  The petition also called on physicists to refuse research funding, because participation in the project would…“lend their institution’s name to a program of dubious scientific validity…” This appeal is just one of many examples where scientists have been called on to engage in responsible behavior and to carefully consider the consequences of their work.

Under what circumstances and in what situations, would it be morally responsible for a university faculty member to sign such a petition? When would it be morally irresponsible to do so?

(This question is a variation of a case used by the American Physical Society Ethics Education program)

17. A sales representative of a multinational firm, wishing to have her products purchased on a regular basis by a prospective client, leaves a bottle of Smirnoff vodka in the office of the purchasing agent in charge of vendor relations and selection. The purchasing agent, uncertain about what to should be done about it, takes the bottle to the CEO of his company, who tells him, “One bottle is a gift, but more than one is a bribe.”

18. That we have moral obligations to assist other human beings when they are in danger and we are in the position to help them is a common and widespread belief. Further, we commonly wish no harm to animals. It is not commonly believed, however, that we have an obligation to save them if we have the power to do so in a given situation.  So, for example: if I see a deer on the side of the road that is injured, do I have an obligation to intervene and stop to help? Likewise, after a particularly hard winter, do I have an obligation to give additional food to a deer that in appearance looks starved and is foraging in my backyard?

19. Declan is a pediatrician. A 12 year-old boy comes to his office with his mother. His complaints include coughing, sneezing and severe headaches. After Declan asks the boy to remove his shirt, he sees several bruises on the boy. The mother volunteers that she has been rubbing gels on his skin with coins, which she calls, “cao gio.” She tells him that “cao gio” improves circulation and removes bad blood. The boy is clearly in pain when Declan touches him. What are the broader ethical issues this scenario presents?

20. Clark is driving his daughter to her elementary school when he notices that she has lice. He has a very important meeting. He tells his daughter to inform the principal. He intends to call the principal himself, but receives another phone call. About mid-day, he receives a call from the school’s principal. She tells him that he has to pick up his daughter immediately because her lice is putting her classmates at risk. He tells her he can come when school ends. She persists. Clark becomes upset. “How is it that children in my daughter’s class can come to school unvaccinated? Aren’t they putting my daughter at risk too?”


Sci Fi Questions

1. In the future, medical science is so advanced that it is possible to eliminate most disease and disability before a child is born. In these cases, the fetus is scanned and if any genetic abnormality is detected, DNA-remodeling nanites are used to change DNA to eliminate the undesirable genes. Although this kind of therapy could also be used to enhance DNA to make people stronger, faster, smarter, as well as customize various other features, the Federation has decided to prohibit any DNA therapy which is not strictly “curative” in nature. Some people still object to even this “curative” DNA treatment, arguing that “fixing” fetuses so that they won’t be disabled or disordered sends a message that such people are not socially desirable and is in fact just another form of eugenics. Further, they say that curing disability in this way is morally the same as “curing” being female or “curing” being gay.  What should our policy be towards the use of curative DNA therapy? 

2. The Big Ethical Question Slam-Off has grown exponentially since its 2015 world premiere between the U.S. Arbor Hospice Slammers and the Canadian University of Winnipeg Debating Society Slammers. A2Ethics and the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties, the original organizers of the Slam-Off, have tried to stay true to its noncommercial and noncorporate origins, but have been co-opted by venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and Vancouver—who have come to see the value of competitions similar to the Slam as a way to display their corporate social responsibilities to “do no evil.” The fact is, the Slam has become the NFL, the NHL and the Olympics combined—that is a professional and worldwide sporting event. And growth has not been an unmitigated good for the Big Ethical Question Slam-Off.


Now, however, the chance to make a serious change. The founders and members of the two original teams in the first planet Earth Slam-Off have moved to the planet Mars. The Martians have received an invitation from the Galaxy Slam Committee to field a team for the upcoming world premiere of the Galaxy Slam-Off. The Martian leaders ask members of the first Slam-Off to present a talk…similar to Earth’s TED talks…but on Mars known as the VERONICA talks. They are to respond to these questions: what are the ethical issues presented when ethics becomes a competition, as well as a sporting event, similar to the Olympics? Is there any moral value in bringing people of other planets together for a Galaxy Big Ethical Question Slam-Off?