2018 Michigan High School Ethics Bowl Case Studies

​This year's Ethics Bowl, with a ever-growing number of schools and student teams, is packed with cases that give the opportunity to advance dialogue on a range of complex and important ethical issues, from access to credit to press freedoms. 

Unlike other Regional Bowls, the Michigan Bowl case studies are written by community members, all of whom are working in Michigan or have a longstanding Michigan affiliation. The Michigan Bowl also has a fine editing team: several philosopher coaches from the University of Michigan Department of Philosophy Outreach Program. 

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, or you might meet them on Bowl Day. Several of the case writers come to the Bowl to learn about what you think and to hear your arguments about theirs as well as all the other case studies. 

Case 1: Bank Responsibility

Credit and access to credit can be defining aspects in the financial success of many people. Credit allows people to borrow money that can help them afford expensive every-day items like a washing machine or car, invest in themselves either through schooling or business, and overcome emergencies when they might not have the money to solve them otherwise. There are, however, many dangerous aspects to credit use as well; it allows individuals to pay a price – interest – to spend beyond their means.

Of particular notoriety are credit cards, as they give instant access to borrowed money at a higher price than many other types of loans. Their convenience allows some people to use them to accumulate rewards and smooth their spending, but it also makes it very easy for people to overspend if they don’t properly budget their money. It is not uncommon for people to spend more in interest paying off a purchase than they did for the original item.

When individuals apply for a credit card, they are either declined, or approved with a certain line of credit. This credit line caps their ability to make purchases on the card, which limits the risk the bank takes on from each customer and the amount of debt that customer can accrue on a single card. After the customer has shown a consistent ability to make payments on time, it is common for the customer to either request a credit line increase or for the bank to raise it for them.

Karen is a director of a team at a large, public bank that evaluates when to proactively raise customers’ credit lines. From a financial perspective, her team makes a lot of money, but she is concerned that by raising customers’ credit lines, they are causing customers to accumulate more debt, pay more in interest, and even default at a higher rate. Ida, an analyst on her team, shares this concern and presents an idea for a policy change that would stop raising the credit lines of customers most likely to accumulate too much debt, even if it would be profitable for the bank to do so.

Brett, another analyst on the team, disagrees with this strategy. He argues that it is not the bank’s responsibility to make financial decisions for their customers. If he was a customer who needed additional credit for any reason, he would be upset to know that the bank was trying to make that decision for him rather than let him manage his own finances. Furthermore, the bank has a responsibility to its shareholders to bring in as much money as it can, and this strategy is not aligned with that responsibility. Ida responds that the bank also has a responsibility to drive the best outcomes for its customers and that if it can help prevent customers from accumulating debt that they regret later, it is their responsibility to do that as well. 

Study Questions:

  1. Who does the bank have responsibilities to? Shareholders? Customers? The public? What is involved in those responsibilities? Should some of those responsibilities be prioritized over others?
  2. Is it important that the bank pick a policy that gives customers the opportunity to make their own financial choices? Why?
  3. Are all of the bank’s customers the same? Will some be affected by the policy differently than others? Does this mean anything for the bank’s choice of policy?
  4. Should the bank implement the proposed strategy? Why or why not?

Author: Gabriel Kahn grew up in Austin, Texas. A 2016 graduate with highest honors from the University of Michigan, he majored in economics and sociology with a minor in Mandarin. He moved to Washington, DC to begin his career at Capital One Financial Corporation, a large commercial bank that pioneered the mass marketing of credit cards.  During his first year, he worked on the Credit Line Increase Program. He is currently a Senior Analyst working on Fraud Prevention and Analytics. Outside of work, Gabe enjoys playing board games, card games, and watching and playing sports (He Bleeds Cubbie Blue!). Now that he has a full-time job, he is beginning to travel. A big hiker who loves to walk through US national parks, Gabe just finished his favorite hike ever, near Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps

Case 2: Lawyer-Client Privilege

The Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct forbid lawyers from revealing information received in confidence (information protected by the “lawyer-client privilege” of a client), and similarly from using that confidential information for the advantage of a third person, unless the client consents.

You are a lawyer whose practice is focused almost exclusively on criminal defense. You have been active in the criminal defense bar association for several years, and you represent criminal defendants at both the trial and appellate (appeals court) levels.

One of your clients, Gilbert, age forty, is in prison for murdering a woman named Alice. You represent Gilbert in the appeal of his conviction and life-without-parole sentence. During confidential meetings with Gilbert, he confesses to you that he also murdered Bob, and he acted alone when he did. Although you were not involved with the case of Bob’s murder, you are somewhat familiar with it and know that a man named Enrique was convicted of Bob’s murder and is consequently serving a sentence of life without parole. Enrique’s conviction and sentence were recently reaffirmed after a thorough, years-long appeals process. Unless new evidence comes to light, he will not be able to appeal again.

After you are unsuccessful in challenging Gilbert’s conviction and sentence for Alice’s murder, you speak with him about Bob’s murder. He repeats his confession, this time in more detail, but refuses to consent to your request to reveal the confession on Enrique’s behalf.

Study Questions:

  1. Should you reveal Gilbert’s confession, in spite of your professional obligations to respect the privacy of your clients? Is revealing the confession morally required, forbidden, or merely permitted?
  2. If you choose to reveal the confession, are you morally obligated to do so openly (regardless of how you may be penalized as a result), or is it permissible to report your tip anonymously?
  3. To what extent, if at all, is it morally relevant that your professional code explicitly forbids you from revealing this information, and you will be censured if you reveal it?
  4. Are there any actions short of revealing the confession that you ethically ought to take?

Author: Mark Kneisel has been an assistant prosecuting attorney in Washtenaw County for over 20 years. After specializing in prosecuting sexual assaults, he transitioned to the appellate division and has argued several cases in the Michigan Supreme Court, affecting state-wide jurisprudence. His current billet also calls on him to train new prosecutors and police officers in accord with the latest judicial and legislative developments. He was the co-chair of the Ann Arbor Mayor’s Task Force for Women’s Safety during its implementation of specialized teams of nurses caring for victims of sexual assaults. He is a regular presenter to college students and administrators on the myriad issues surrounding intimate-partner violence and sexual assaults on campus. Before attending law school, he taught and coached for three years at the high school level. While making no formal claims of expertise, he tries to maintain a steady diet of science and philosophy reading. Mark is grateful to the 2018 Bowl case editors for refining both the hypothetical cases and the questions. He hopes the students find them daunting, but emerge undaunted. 

Case 3: No-Drop

Assault is the crime of believably threatening to physically harm another person, while battery is the crime of actually inflicting physical harm. Most prosecutors’ offices used to require domestic violence (assault and/or battery) victims to appear at the local prosecuting attorney’s office within days after an assault in order to sign a criminal complaint. Over twenty years ago, at the urging of various women’s interest groups, one prosecutor’s office shifted its posture and simply had the responding police officer sign the complaint.

At the same time, the prosecutor put in place a “no-drop” policy, under which the prosecutor’s office proceeds with criminal charges regardless of the victim’s wishes. Some of the rationales for the shift were to remove the incentive for batterers to threaten their victims into withdrawing charges, to recognize and treat domestic assault as a crime and not “just” as a household matter, and to prevent recidivism (repeat offenses) and escalation (up to and including murder). In many respects, the new policies and practices had the desired effects of holding more batterers accountable and protecting the safety of victims and would-be victims without giving them the burden of pressing criminal charges.

Now, as then, the majority of domestic assault victims are women. Recent criticisms of “no-drop” policies have gained momentum, and these criticisms have come from other women-centered perspectives. Generally speaking, the newer criticisms center on the lack of autonomy given to women assaulted or battered by their partners. Involvement in the criminal justice system, as a victim or as the partner of a defendant, can be highly disruptive to a person’s life. Furthermore, some victims may not even have requested police intervention in the first place, as in cases where a neighbor calls the police without talking to the victim. For both these reasons, some people argue that “no-drop” policies are morally wrong because they violate women’s autonomy.

Should the prosecutor's office continue to enforce no-drop policies in the interest of public safety, or should it respond to concerns about women’s autonomy by ending the policy?

Study Questions:

  1. How important is an individual victim’s autonomy in relation to society’s interests in accountability for criminals and the prevention of future crimes?
  2. Are there any ways in which withdrawing the no-drop policy could threaten women’s (or victims’) autonomy? If so, what are they, and how should they affect the prosecutor’s deliberations about what to do?
  3. How, if at all, should the presence of children in a household affect how victims and/or legal authorities should respond to a domestic violence incident?
  4. Who is responsible for holding offenders accountable for their crimes? Who, if anyone else, should have a say in whether or how offenders are held accountable?

Author: Mark Kneisel has been an assistant prosecuting attorney in Washtenaw County for over 20 years. After specializing in prosecuting sexual assaults, he transitioned to the appellate division and has argued several cases in the Michigan Supreme Court, affecting state-wide jurisprudence. His current billet also calls on him to train new prosecutors and police officers in accord with the latest judicial and legislative developments. He was the co-chair of the Ann Arbor Mayor’s Task Force for Women’s Safety during its implementation of specialized teams of nurses caring for victims of sexual assaults. He is a regular presenter to college students and administrators on the myriad issues surrounding intimate-partner violence and sexual assaults on campus. Before attending law school, he taught and coached for three years at the high school level. While making no formal claims of expertise, he tries to maintain a steady diet of science and philosophy reading. Mark is grateful to the 2018 Bowl case editors for refining both the hypotheticals and the questions. He hopes the students find them daunting, but emerge undaunted. 

Case 4: Equalizing Attempt

Currently, the criminal sentencing guidelines in Michigan state that sentences for (completed) murder are more severe than sentences for attempted murder. Similarly, sentences for drunk driving causing death are more severe than sentences for instances of drunk driving where nobody dies.

You are a state legislator considering a package of criminal law reform proposals. The proposals are motivated by the suggestion that a person who assaults a victim with the intention to commit murder is just as dangerous and as blameworthy as a person who intends to kill the victim and succeeds; likewise, two equally drunk drivers are equally dangerous and equally blameworthy for their recklessness regardless of whether either driver ends up injuring or killing anyone. Supporters of the bill argue that criminal punishment should depend only on factors over which the defendant has control, not on chance events like whether an intended victim actually dies.

However, many people have strong moral intuitions that a wrongdoer’s blameworthiness depends in part on how much harm he or she causes, so it’s appropriate for the law to inflict more severe penalties on offenders whose actions cause serious injury or death.

You are hearing from impassioned constituents on all sides of this thorny issue, including defendants, victims, victims’ families, attorneys, and members of the general public. Even within each of these groups, there are many different perspectives. You have a week to decide how you will vote.

Study Questions:

  1. Should your state “equalize” the sentencing consequences for Murder and Attempted Murder? For Drunk Driving Causing Death and Drunk Driving? Why or why not?
  2. Does your answer depend on whether the proposal increases the punishments for non-lethal offenses to meet the current punishments for the lethal offenses, or decreases punishments for lethal offenses to meet the current punishments for the non-lethal offenses, or sets the punishments for both offenses somewhere between these two degrees of severity?
  3. Why is a criminal’s mindset relevant to her punishment? Why, if at all, is the outcome of a crime relevant to the punishment?
  4. What is the proper goal of criminal punishment?
  5. Many drunk drivers are apprehended by police officers who observe poor driving, but many others are apprehended when officers notice their drunkenness during traffic stops made for unrelated reasons, like expired license plates. Should the criminal law differentiate between drunk drivers who exhibit poor driving and those who do not, punishing people in the first category more severely? Should it differentiate between drivers with higher and lower blood alcohol levels, which indicate how much alcohol the person has actually consumed, regardless of how impaired (or unimpaired) he or she appears?

Author: Mark Kneisel has been an assistant prosecuting attorney in Washtenaw County for over 20 years. After specializing in prosecuting sexual assaults, he transitioned to the appellate division and has argued several cases in the Michigan Supreme Court, affecting state-wide jurisprudence. His current billet also calls on him to train new prosecutors and police officers in accord with the latest judicial and legislative developments. He was the co-chair of the Ann Arbor Mayor’s Task Force for Women’s Safety during its implementation of specialized teams of nurses caring for victims of sexual assaults. He is a regular presenter to college students and administrators on the myriad issues surrounding intimate-partner violence and sexual assaults on campus. Before attending law school, he taught and coached for three years at the high school level. While making no formal claims of expertise, he tries to maintain a steady diet of science and philosophy reading. Mark is grateful to the 2018 Bowl case editors for refining both the hypotheticals and the questions. He hopes the students find them daunting, but emerge undaunted. 

Case 5: Subcontractor Duties

Ralph runs a small consulting company in ABC, Indiana. When a major client approached him to develop a software application to help manage their inventory, he didn’t have the expertise to do it himself, so he hired Pete to work on it. Pete was hired as an independent contractor, not as an employee. Independent contractors can make more money and work more flexible hours, but they have no job security and are responsible for their own taxes, insurance, and retirement. Pete’s contract also did not give him any ownership rights.

The application that Pete worked on was very successful and generated about half of Ralph’s income each year for the last 10 years. With the income from his contract with Ralph, Pete was able to buy a new vehicle and a house, and he and his wife were able to dine out frequently.

Around the time that Ralph was phasing out Pete’s services, Pete told Ralph that he had cancer and had a life expectancy of about six months.

Since the software that Pete had developed was so intricate, Ralph hired another consultant, Jim, to learn from Pete how things operated while Pete was still able to work. At the time Ralph didn’t know whether Pete had a month, two months, or a year to work with Jim. Ralph asked Pete to train Jim in the use of the application, and paid him one year’s wages in advance.

One year after his initial diagnosis, Pete filed for bankruptcy, lost his house, and moved into an apartment. Although Pete was a very good and trustworthy worker, he turned out to be terrible at financial management. He hadn’t filed income taxes for over two years, nor did he have any savings. Pete also could not rely on any of his family members, including his wife, for financial support.

As Jim gained more insight into Ralph’s computer application, there were a number of things he wanted to fix. He also wanted to train his staff in the operations. As the technology changed, Pete’s expertise became less relevant. Based on his reduced involvement, Ralph and Jim decided to halve Pete’s pay.

It is now five years after Pete’s initial diagnosis. Pete continues to work for Ralph and Jim while he receives treatment. In some ways, Pete has become a stumbling block, because a lot of the work really should be rewritten by Jim and his staff. A lot of improvements that the client has been asking for have been delayed, because it would require restructuring the work that Pete has done. And the more that the rewrite of the software is delayed, the more it may become obsolete in the marketplace.

At this point, Ralph is Pete’s only source of income. His wife works, but doesn’t earn enough to make a difference. Should Pete stop working for Ralph, the likelihood of his finding new employment in his current condition is minimal.

Study Questions:

1. Absent a contractual obligation to keep Pete in his employment, what are Ralph’s moral obligations to Pete? Would it be morally permissible for Ralph to stop employing Pete?

2. What, if any, are Jim’s moral obligations to Pete? Should Jim work to accommodate Pete? Or should he prioritize his business interests and his clients’ requests?
3. What, if any, are Pete’s moral obligations to Ralph and Jim?

Author: Stan Mendenhall has been editor and publisher of Orthopedic Network News since 1991, and president of Mendenhall Associates, Inc. an Ann Arbor based company that provides software and databases to hospitals both in the US and internationally. He graduated from high school in Milan Michigan, attended the University of Michigan, and started his career at an accounting firm after college. He spent several years as a senior analyst at a large hospital database organization in Ann Arbor where he focused on healthcare research. In 1990, he started his current venture, Mendenhall Associates, Inc. which supports healthcare organizations through education, communications, and the arts. His wife, the artist Robin Wilt, taught in the Ann Arbor public schools for many years, retiring in 2016.

Case 6: Testing The Limits of Reasonable Accommodation

Sally works as a sales representative for a small company, Widgets Are Us (WAU), that produces and sells widgets. Her position requires significant domestic and international travel, where she makes presentations to potential distributors and government officials. Sally is considered a valuable and productive employee, and her performance reviews reveal that she has consistently met or surpassed all the targets outlined in her work plan.

Sally has a history of depression, but it has become increasingly pronounced over the past few years. Additionally, she has recently received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Though Sally did not disclose her disability status at the time she was hired, she now believes several changes to her work environment could help her to manage her condition and improve her quality of life.

She would like to make the following requests:

1) Two days paid leave following international trips, and one day paid leave following domestic trips

2) Additional health coverage to include alternative treatments (acupuncture, massage, etc.) to reduce stress due to her demanding travel schedule

3) A cap on the number of international and domestic trips per year

4) A flexible work schedule, which would enable her to work at home 1-2 days per week 

5) Counseling services and/or life support coaches paid by WAU.

No employee at WAU has ever disclosed their disability status. This total lack of discussion about mental health in the workplace has made Sally reluctant to disclose her status for fear that she will face discrimination from other colleagues.  

Study Questions:

  1. What criteria should WAU use to determine whether Sally's requests are reasonable? To what extent should WAU defer to Sally in assessing the reasonability of her requests? Do you think you'd consider her requests differently if she had a disability that was immediately apparent (for example, as a wheelchair user)? If you believe there is a difference, explain why.
  2. What measures should WAU have to take to reassure Sally that it is safe to disclose her mental health condition?
  3. Imagine that WAU honors Sally’s requests. Do you believe her colleagues would resent her? Should WAU be tasked with preemptively taking steps to mitigate any resentment toward her?

Author: Michael Szporluk has been working in the international relief and development field for more than two decades. He has worked in Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia for local and international organizations on a range of development and dialogue projects, and led the European Centre for Minority Issues’ Policy Dialogue Initiative in Macedonia. Michael spent four years as a research officer and analyst in the Office of the Prosecution at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. For the past eight years, he has focused on evaluations, research, and advocacy to advance the rights of persons with disabilities across the world. Last year he developed a strategic plan for the City of Portland to improve its outreach, recruitment, and employment practices with respect to persons with disabilities. He also took part in the United Nations Development Program's first disability inclusive development evaluation. Michael grew up in Ann Arbor and is a graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University with a Master's Degree in Public Policy.

Case 7: Protester Anonymity

Anna is an editor for her college newspaper, and she is covering a student government meeting. At the meeting, the student government is considering a resolution to divest from a country facing allegations of human rights violations against another country in an ongoing land dispute. Divestment would require the college to stop financial involvement with any company involved in the country’s activities. The issue is very charged at the college, as many students have ethnic ties to one of the countries involved, and the resolution is part of a large-scale movement across the country. Consequently, the meeting has hundreds of students and community members in attendance, with many more watching online.

All student government meetings begin with a public comment period, during which community members can address the student government on issues relevant to the day’s agenda. Before addressing the student government, they are asked to sign up on an open sign-up sheet, and state their name and affiliation to the college before delivering their comments. At this meeting, multiple protesters use the public comment period to show their support for the measure. As people speak, Anna writes down their comments and names for her story with the intention of sharing a few of them on social media, as is standard journalistic practice. However, once the protesters realize Anna is writing down their names, they become upset and demand that she only quote them anonymously. They tell her that they are concerned that if their names are published alongside their sentiments against the country in question, it will be difficult for them to travel in that area of the world to visit family members or their homes, and might put them in physical danger.

Anna is torn. She knows the newspaper she works for does allow individuals to be quoted anonymously if their quote is vital to a story and there are severe extenuating circumstances, such as that they could lose their job or face physical harm.These circumstances are similar to the protesters' concerns. However, her newspaper, like almost all newspapers, has a long-standing policy that people who speak at government meetings cannot be anonymous, for several reasons. For one, it creates a slippery slope — if she agrees to quote these protesters anonymously, she might have to provide the same leeway for others. But certainly it would be bad if certain groups of people could provide comments without being named. For instance, if public officials or constituents present in government spaces always have the option of making their comments anonymous, there would be little accountability in local government proceedings. This would become problematic since lack of accountability often leads to corruption. Furthermore, these protesters have chosen to speak in a public section of the meeting, where their names are stated to anyone watching. Most individuals granted anonymity give information or comments in situations where there is no expectation it could be public, such as a whistleblower privately leaking information about a company’s unethical practices, or somebody involved in an illegal activity individually speaking to a reporter.

Anna doesn’t want to put anyone in physical danger, or make it difficult for them to travel home. She believes the protesters’ concerns are credible, especially given the alleged human rights violations against the country in question, and further that their quotes are important to her story. However, she also believes that speaking at a public meeting is different than most cases concerning anonymity, because the protesters have chosen to put themselves in a public situation. And she is concerned about creating an exception that could be unfair or damaging to the public’s right to know what happens at open, government meetings.

Study Questions:

  1. Should Anna grant these protesters anonymity? Do the protesters' concerns about their safety overrule the right of the public at large to know what was said at an open, public government meeting?
  2. If the student government didn’t require people speaking during public comment to openly state their name, would it make a difference in whether the protesters should be allowed anonymity?
  3. If Anna chooses to publish the protesters’ quotes, is she ethically responsible for any harm or difficulty they encounter as a result?

Author: Shoham Geva is a 2017 graduate of the University of Michigan, where she majored in Political Science. During her time at Michigan, Shoham spent 4 years working for the college newspaper as a reporter, editor and eventually editor in chief, overseeing coverage of issues ranging from campus policies to the 2016 presidential election. Several of her articles have been cited in academic journals and amicus briefs. During her tenure as an editor the paper won several collegiate journalism awards. Currently, Shoham works as an analyst at a Chicago management consulting firm that works pro bono with local and regional civic sector leaders on policy issues. 

Case 8: No Trace Left Behind?

Amanda and Jen are on a late summer backpacking trip in northern Michigan before heading back to college in the fall. They are hiking a trail along the Manistee River in the Manistee National Forest.  The trail is fairly popular among backpackers because of its beauty, but this is their first trip on this particular trail.

Amanda and Jen are experienced backpackers and try to practice Leave No Trace (LNT) principles as set forth by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in order to minimize their impact on the environment. These include: camping on durable surfaces such as established campsites, camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams, dispersing usage to prevent creation of campsites and trails, leaving plants as you find them, keeping campfires small or avoiding them, and never feeding animals. Amanda and Jen also conscientiously follow the National Forest Service rules (posted on the National Forest Service website). These include: camping only at designated sites within the Manistee River corridor and no camping within 200 feet of any body of water, except at those designated sites.

At the end of their first day of hiking they begin to look for a campsite for the evening. Although they knew of several designated campsites along the trail, each site they passed was occupied. It was getting late so they needed to make a decision about where to camp. They also came upon several spots along the river that had obviously been used as campsites numerous times but were not official designated campsites, and so were strictly speaking against the rules. They considered the alternative of moving 200 ft. away from the river and setting up camp in a pristine spot that was technically within the rules, but would actually create a greater impact on the environment by impacting vegetation and creating pathways in and around their site in the woods. They debated about where to camp: was it better to technically break the rules but have a lower impact on their environment by camping in already established sites, even though they were not officially designated? Or better to follow the National Forest rules and head into the woods away from the water knowing they might be having a negative impact by camping on a pristine site?

As they continued their hike the next afternoon, Amanda and Jen came upon three men who were setting up their campsite at the side of the trail. The men appeared to be in their thirties, and two of them were carrying sidearms. One of the men was feeding a huge bonfire in the center of their site. Another appeared to be feeding snacks to a chipmunk and the third was chopping down small green trees and cutting live branches from larger trees. Amanda and Jen weren’t sure how they planned to use the branches since they were green and they knew they wouldn’t burn well. They said hello and the men returned their greeting. Amanda and Jen walked a short distance down the trail, then stopped for a few minutes. They discussed whether they should talk with the men about their breach of National Forest rules and LNT practices such as cutting live trees, building a huge fire and feeding wildlife. Were the men not familiar with these rules and principles or were they willfully ignoring them? Amanda and Jen felt that they could do good by educating the men if they were in fact just inexperienced and uninformed. But they didn’t know how best to voice their concerns, or how the men would respond to them.

Study Questions:

  1. Did Amanda and Jen make the right decision by camping in an unauthorized location with lower environmental impact, or should they have followed the National Forest rules?
  2. Do Amanda and Jen have a duty to intervene in the men’s environmentally irresponsible  behavior? If not, would it be permissible for them to intervene? If yes, how does the risk of a violent or hostile response from the men affect that duty?
  3. Do the men have a duty to follow the National Forest rules? To attempt to follow LNT practices?

Author: Cathy Susan is a physical therapist who works in outpatient orthopedics at Physical Therapy in Motion in Ann Arbor, MI. She has a bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy as well as a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Michigan. She is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and is certified in Wilderness First Aid. 

Cathy has a level III Search and Rescue certification and has been involved in backcountry search and recovery efforts in Michigan and Ontario. These were unresolved cold cases in which individuals went missing in the wilderness and official search efforts had been long discontinued. She participated in several searches led by Michigan Backcountry Search and Rescue which discovered the remains of a 28 year old man who had gone missing in the northern Ontario wilderness several years before.

Case 9: Anonymity in Gamete Donation

Helena Peterson, Ph.D., is the director of the Northeast Regional Cryobank (NEC), which provides donor gametes—sperm and eggs—for a fee to those needing gametes to reproduce, e.g. single individuals, couples with fertility difficulties, or same-sex couples. Though there is relatively little regulation of the market in sperm and eggs in the U.S., NEC prides itself on upholding strict ethical standards, with concern for donors, families created through donation, and donor-conceived children and adults. One emerging issue of ethical concern for NEC has to do with donor anonymity. In anonymous donation the donor’s identifying information, e.g. name, birthdate, and contact information, is treated as confidential; thus, the child conceived from the donation is never permitted to find out who their donor is. Traditionally all cryobanks provided only anonymous donation, but in the past decade and a half or so, some bioethicists and adult donor-conceived offspring have called for policy changes, advocating for donor-conceived people’s right to know who their donor is at age 18, upon request. This is called open identity donation.

Those favoring open identity donation and opposing anonymous donation argue that each person has “a right to know” one’s genetic origins. This knowledge would include: the donor’s identity; biographical information about the donor’s life and reasons for donating; genetic and health-related information; and current contact information to facilitate the offspring’s pursuing a personal relationship with the donor if desired. In favor of this position one can point to empirical research indicating that some donor-conceived offspring deeply desire this information and experience emotional struggles if they are unable to receive it. Some bioethicists further suggest that all humans need to “know where one comes from” in order to develop a secure sense of self, and thus all people should have the option to know and have relationships with their genetic parents.

Many cryobanks, including NEC, began offering open identity donation in the past few decades along with traditional anonymous donation. But some nations and banks have gone further. A few countries have legally prohibited anonymous gamete donation entirely (though the U.S. is not one of them) and at least one U.S. cryobank has voluntarily decided to discontinue anonymous donation in favor of open identity donation. NEC’s board of directors have recommended to Helena—who has the authority to make a final decision—that NEC follow in those footsteps and begin offering only open identity donation.

Helena understands the concerns raised in favor of abandoning fully anonymous donation, but she is hesitant to do so. She is aware after working personally with hundreds of donors as well as many individuals and couples pursuing sperm and egg donation to have a child, that both donors and parents-to-be sometimes strongly prefer donor anonymity. In addition, many donors might not be willing to provide gametes for others in the future if their identities will not be kept confidential; this could lead to a shortage of sperm and eggs, impeding some individuals and couples from using donor gametes to become parents. Moreover, not all donor-conceived people advocate for open identity donation; some have no interest in knowing anything about their donor and report no negative consequences in not knowing more about their origins. Bioethicists also disagree about the moral importance of biological relationships, with some denying that there is any “right to know” one’s genetic origins and others suggesting that placing too much importance on genetics is ethically mistaken. 

 Study Questions:

  1. Should Helena decide for the NEC to continue offering anonymous donation?
  2. Is it important to have relationships with genetic relatives?
  3. Does knowing where we come from require knowing who our genetic parents are?
  4. Whatever Helena decides, some parties will be negatively affected. If she elects to continue offering anonymous donation, then donor-conceived offspring who want to know who their donor is will feel they have been denied important information. On the other hand, if she elects to stop offering anonymous donation, then the NEC might not get enough donations to serve their clientele. How should Helena weigh the desires of donor-conceived offspring versus that of donors and parents?




Author: Amanda Roth is an assistant professor of philosophy and women's & gender studies at SUNY Geneseo. She completed her Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Michigan and was then a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Ethics in Public Life and the School of Public Policy. During that time, she also coached the University of Michigan Ethics Bowl Team for two years. Her research and teaching interests are in reproductive ethics, political philosophy, and feminist and lgbq issues. Her recent and forthcoming publications have taken up epistemic issues related to queer reproduction, bioethics and treatment protocols for reproduction in women-women same-sex couples, the ethics of reciprocal IVF, and feminist views on abortion ethics.

Case 10: Fashion Dilemma

Harry is a vegan, an advocate for ethical behavior, and a fashion enthusiast. His favorite store is The Closet because it is inexpensive and frequently introduces new merchandise, allowing him to keep up with the latest trends without breaking the bank. A recent trip to the mall, however, presented a problem for Harry. He discovered that the company that owns The Closet was recently accused of animal cruelty and child labor in its overseas factories. Although the company has adamantly denied knowledge of these practices, an investigation confirmed that animals are used in the testing of their cosmetic products and the production of their clothes and accessories involves child labor.

Harry is debating whether to continue shopping at The Closet. He is comforted by the thought that the company didn’t know about the animal cruelty and child labor in their factories, but still doesn’t want to give his money to a company that benefits from the exploitation of children and animals. This is a huge problem for Harry because it means he won’t be able to afford to experiment with new styles, as all the ethical retailers near him are out of his budget.

Furthermore, Harry is unsure whether he should continue using the products he has already purchased from The Closet. He is saddened by the idea that the clothing and grooming products he has bought there are morally tainted, and he doesn’t want to promote the store by wearing its logo. He struggles with the thought of giving up so much of his beloved clothing collection that he worked so hard to grow.

Study Questions:

  1. Should Harry continue shopping at The Closet or put his passion on hold?
  2. Would it really make a difference if Harry stopped shopping at The Closet? Do the actions of one person in a case like this matter?
  3. Should Harry get rid of the clothing from The Closet that he has already purchased?

Author: Ahrisue Choi is a fourth year student at the University of Michigan, working towards her bachelor’s degree. She is majoring in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience and minoring in computer science. She was born and raised in New York City, where she may return in the future. For now, she is planning to manage a lab for a few years to expand her research experience before applying to graduate programs. She aspires to earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology to open her own practice.

Case 11: Isle Royale Wolves

Isle Royale is a remote and rugged island in northwestern Lake Superior, located near Michigan’s northern border with Canada. Isle Royale, together with more than 400 surrounding islands and associated waters, make up Isle Royale National Park. In 1976, Congress recognized the park — a mosaic of forests, wetlands, lakes and waterways —  as wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964. [1] This is the highest level of protection for federal land; areas designated wilderness are preserved and protected in their natural condition, their ecosystems undisturbed by human activity.

Isle Royale National Park is particularly well known for its moose and wolf populations and is one of the few locations where these species’ predator-prey dynamic can be observed free of human influence. As a mostly closed system with limited migration, it is a unique natural laboratory where scientists have studied the moose and wolf populations, and their relationship, since 1959.

Although wolves and moose are two of the iconic species of Isle Royale, the once-thriving wolf population is on the brink of disappearing. For the last two years, only a pair of wolves has remained. These wolves, which are highly inbred, are not expected to reproduce. [2] The decline of the island’s wolf population is due to climate change: at one time, winter ice bridges allowed them to cross to the mainland in search of mates. These bridges once appeared seven out of every ten winters; their frequency is now closer to once per decade. [3] As the wolves disappear, the moose population grows unchecked, devouring vegetation and further impacting the island’s ecosystem.

Study Questions:

  1. Should the National Park Service, who manages Isle Royale National Park, intervene and reintroduce wolves to the island? Why or why not?
  2. Would your answer to the previous question change if the wolf population were declining for purely natural reasons, rather than due to human-caused climate change?
  3. Would your answer to the first question change if wolves had been originally introduced to Isle Royale by humans, rather than migrating there naturally?
  4. Why is the preservation of nature valuable?

[1] The Wilderness Act of 1964. http://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/WhatIsWilderness & http://www.wilderness.net/nwps/legisact  

[2] Science. April 18, 2017. Two wolves survive in world’s longest predatory prey study.

[3]  Los Angeles Times. February 28, 2014. Isle Royale wolves at risk from climate change, isolation.

Author: Melanie Gunn is the Outreach Coordinator at Point Reyes National Seashore, working on park planning issues of high public interest. Melanie has a M.S. in Natural Resources & Environment from the University of Michigan, and taught Woody Plants and Field Botany on the Ann Arbor campus and at the UM Biological Station in Northern Michigan for over a decade before starting a career with the National Park Service. The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources of over 400 park units for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.

Case 12: University Donor

You work as a fundraiser for a big Midwestern university. Your job centers on raising money from individual donors to support a wide range of university activities, from scholarships for low-income students to faculty research projects. While most donations come in the form of checks or transfers of stock, some donors choose to make gifts of tangible goods, such as real estate or artwork. These tangible goods might be added to the university’s possessions or sold by the university for their cash value.

For years, you have worked with a wealthy donor who has made gifts of cash and stock, and even on one occasion donated her expensive condominium in Florida. The donor is an alumna of the University and loves to come back to campus, both for cultural events and football games. You often meet with her during her visits, and over the years have struck up a friendship. You share a love of music and plays, and often attend concerts and performances together when she is in town.

Two days before the big football season opener, the donor calls to tell you that she has six extra tickets for the football game and asks whether you or anyone in the university community might want them. Normally, one of your responsibilities during the football season is to help distribute unused tickets to alumni. But, because this home opener is against a vastly overmatched opponent, you expect attendance to be low. You are sure that the game will not sell out, and you know that there is a backlog of available tickets for any alumni who might decide at the last minute that they would like to go to the game. You suggest that the donor should try to sell the tickets on Stubhub or perhaps look for other recipients; she tells you that she doesn’t have the time or energy, and that if you won’t accept them, she’ll simply throw them away.

An idea occurs to you. For the past several years, you’ve volunteered at an after-school program for children with disabilities. You could use the tickets to take several of these children, and one of your co-volunteers, to the game. You think this would be a great experience for the kids — not to mention your co-volunteer and you, both big football fans. However, the university has a policy against fundraising staff accepting gifts from donors.

Study Questions:

  1. Should you accept the tickets? Why or why not?
  2. Suppose you were thinking of passing the tickets along to your co-volunteer, but not attending the game yourself. Would this affect your answer to the previous question?
  3. In light of this scenario, should the University rethink its policy that prohibits fundraising staff from accepting gifts? If so, how might that policy be revised?
  4. When, if ever, is it permissible to violate a generally sensible policy? Should we violate a policy whenever doing so would allow us to do something good?

Author: John Ramsburgh is a fundraiser at the University of Michigan. After completing a graduate degree in English literature from the University of Michigan in 2004, John worked for several political and environmental organizations in North and South Carolina. His responsibilities included grassroots organizing in support of clean water and action on climate change. In his current role in the development office, John helps raise money to support student scholarships and faculty research

Case 13: Corporate Giving

Jessi works at Wand, a large, well-known soap company. Wand’s CEO has placed Jessi in charge of this year’s corporate giving campaign, and given her a budget of $50,000. The CEO has given Jessi no constraints on how she may use the funds.

For the past few decades, Wand has used its giving budget to send thousands of bottles of its own product to the Wildlife Protection Agency (WPA), which uses the soap to clean off animals affected by oil spills. The WPA and Wand have no formal agreement that this arrangement will continue. However, the widely circulated pictures of oil-covered birds being washed clean with Wand following an oil spill always generate good publicity for the company, followed by short-lived, but significant, spikes in Wand sales. Furthermore, consumers consistently report positive feelings about Wand as a brand, and most in the company suspect that this is due in part to the WPA donations and resulting publicity.

Still, Jessi feels that Wand’s charitable money could do more good elsewhere. Although Jessi, like most people, finds the pictures of oil-covered wildlife heartbreaking, she also (again like most people) values human lives significantly more than non-human lives. She knows that $50,000 could dramatically improve the lives of people if given to cost-effective global health charities.[1] Jessi doesn’t know how much good $50,000 of in-kind soap donations to the WPA will do, but she strongly suspects that, given the disparity between the value of human and non-human lives, it is a lot less than the amount of good the money could do if given to global health.

Jessi does not worry about how her decision will impact her career; she is set to retire next year and was given the assignment (and free reign over it) as a reward for her years of loyal service to Wand. Someone else will run next year’s giving campaign.

Study Questions:

1. Is Jessi right to value (non-human) animal lives less than human lives? Why or why not?
2. Does the fact that Wand has donated to the WPA for a long time create a duty of continued aid?
3. Ought we to (try to) maximize the good we do with our finite charitable resources? Must we? What are the implications of your answer?
4. If Wand’s previous giving campaigns were largely motivated out of desire to generate positive publicity, is it still right to call them “charitable”?
5. Does Wand have a duty to its shareholders to maximize profits? [2] If so, does this mean that Wand has an obligation to allocate its charitable donations in a way that maximizes positive publicity?


[1] See https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/impact-calculator

[2] Cf. https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/04/16/what-are-corporations-o...


Author: Cullen O’Keefe is a 2L at Harvard Law School. Cullen graduated from the University of Michigan in 2016 with majors in Philosophy and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. While at University of Michigan, Cullen served as co-captain of Michigan Ethics Bowl. At Harvard Law, Cullen serves as President of HLS Effective Altruism, which encourages students to think empirically and strategically to maximize the good they do for others. Cullen plans to pursue a career in long-term artificial intelligence policy and strategy. Cullen has recorded a podcast and Sketchy Conversation with A2Ethics. 

Case 14: Physician Competing Duties

You are an intern on the inpatient neurology team taking care of an elderly gentleman who was admitted to your service. After suffering a stroke, he was exhibiting particularly concerning symptoms, and was subsequently found to have a large and inoperable tumor compressing part of his brain. The patient has had dementia for several years and is not able to communicate very well or make his own medical decisions. The combination of these two illnesses, the tumor and the dementia, give the man a very poor prognosis: his exact level of baseline function is unclear but limited, and any treatment for his tumor would be only palliative.

After being admitted to your team’s care, the patient develops difficulty breathing and is placed on oxygen therapy, which allows him to make it comfortably through the night. The next day, his three children (an older daughter, middle son, and younger daughter) arrive at the hospital to visit and discuss the treatment plan. Paperwork in the patient’s chart establishes the older daughter as the patient’s durable power of attorney (DPOA), meaning that she is officially responsible for making his medical decisions. The three children confirm this.

During the course of the day, the patient experiences worsening respiratory status despite increasing his oxygen to the maximum permitted on the floor, and the nurse informs the team that he will need to be transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for additional oxygen and possible intubation in order to sustain his breathing. You discuss the situation with the family and find that the patient’s two daughters would like care to be withdrawn, while the son wants the team to do everything they can to prolong his father’s life. You suspect, based on the way that he talks about this decision, that the son does not have a full understanding of the situation (despite your best efforts to explain). The older daughter wants the family to make a collective decision about their father’s care, and doesn’t want to withdraw care without the agreement of her brother.

You are placed in a difficult situation here, in which you have competing duties including to your patient, his family, and your hospital. You ask your senior resident for advice or help, but he feels that you are best equipped to manage this delicate situation given your discussion with the patient’s son and daughters. He reminds you of the importance of the role of the DPOA in speaking for the patient. Your attending physician is wise, learned, and in clinic for the afternoon; but you know that he would be concerned about the resources expended either in escalating care for the patient (given that no cure is possible) or in further deliberating while the patient remains on the current floor and is not receiving any definitive treatment.

Study Questions:

1. How should you weigh your duties to your patient (including providing benefit and not causing harm) against those to his family as surrogate decision makers, and against those to the hospital and its other patients, who would be able to use resources you might devote to this patient’s care?

2. How can you assess the reasonableness of the son’s desire to have care escalated? Should you question the daughters’ decision to withdraw care? How (if at all) should you help them make their decision, keeping in mind that ultimately, the oldest daughter is the designated DPOA?

3. How should the patient’s prognosis be incorporated into a discussion with his family about how to proceed in his care?


Intern – a resident physician in their first year of postgraduate training

Inpatient – a patient or service in the hospital

Prognosis – the expected course for a patient

ICU – intensive care unit

Intubation – insertion of a tube into the lungs for use with a mechanical ventilator

DPOA-HC – durable power of attorney for healthcare; or, by extension, a person with this role

Author: Whit Froehlich is third-year medical student at the University of Michigan whose interest in ethics stems from its interplay with the values of equity and good communication in healthcare. He graduated from Greenhills School and obtained a BA in Mathematics and Economics from Amherst College before returning to Ann Arbor for medical school. He is active in many organizations including MiSciWriters, the Life Sciences Orchestra, and Central Student Government.

Case 15: An Emergency Decision

You are one of three members on the Nursing Advisory Committee at Good Hope Hospital. Your location near the Puget Sound is a tranquil waterfront site.  You have worked in a very structured, regimented organization, whose leadership has included teams and advisory boards of lawyers, doctors, administrators, and members of a nearby university medical school. All this represents your 28 year career in a progressive, caring institution.

On April 5th, threatening storms required the entire Emergency Management Decision Team, of which you are a member, to place the Hospital into Restricted Function. After a week of continuous storms and flooding, the emergency status was increased to the level of Closed and Secured Isolation, Highest Security. This means that passage in and out of the hospital is no longer possible, and you are among the people who have been stranded at Good Hope for three days thus far. Family members of patients are unable to get to the hospital for care or removal of their loved ones. Communication by cell phone is spotty, often non-existent. As the entire Puget Sound region has endured severe flooding and storm damage, there are no additional external resources or rescue efforts coming to help from outside the hospital.

The stories of the last four days in the hospital are haunting. They include evacuations without life support systems, patients whose prognoses are deteriorating due to lack of functional care, and withdrawal of life support for patients that were designated with irreversible damage. 48 patients, 4 nurses, 1 doctor, 1 building manager, and 1 representative of the hospital's owner remain stuck in the hospital building.

On April 15, you are called to a meeting at 4:00am as a member of the Decision Team. A rescue crew will be coming by with a two hour window during which they can transport 15 people by boat (or fewer, if large equipment is transported as well). The storm and flooding are expected to worsen for two more days, and afterwards conditions are expected to remain severe but stable for four more days until finally lessening. Predictions of time until the hospital returns to functional are indeterminate.

No Emergency Management Plans dictating how to decide who is evacuated have been written for this level of catastrophe, and so it is up to the Decision Team to decide which patients and/or staff members will be evacuated. Three members of the decision team remain trapped in the hospital: one doctor, a representative for the hospital’s owner, and yourself. The owner’s representative votes for the removal of herself, the building manager, 2 nurses, and 11 patients. The doctor votes for removal of 15 patients and no caregivers. You are the last member of the decision team to propose a solution.

Study Questions:

1. Which people do you think should be given priority for evacuation? Should it be all patients, or should some caregivers be evacuated as well?

2. How should you choose between patients to decide who is evacuated and who stays? Consider that, if one patient has a lot of necessary equipment, they may take up the space of more than one person. Does this make a difference in who you choose to evacuate?

3. What are your professional responsibilities to the staff you lead? To your patients? How do these differ?

4. How should you weigh considerations of who to evacuate against considerations of who it is necessary to leave behind? What factors go into this decision?  

Author: Paul Van Ermen is a career high school teacher and group facilitator.  He received his undergraduate degree in Secondary Education from Oakland University in 1985, and his Masters of Public Administration from Wayne State University in 1991.  He is a teacher at Birmingham Groves High School in Beverly Hills, Michigan.  He has been Head Teacher of the Birmingham Public Schools Experiential Learning Center, which promotes Adventure-based educational components in both classroom and extracurricular formats.  While with BPS he has created the Urban Adventure Program, the Service Learning Class, The Spring Break Service Project, and the Diversity Retreat for Seaholm High School.  Paul has been recognized as a Birmingham Diversity Champion, and in 2012 was honored as BPS Teacher of the Year.  Hecontinues to teach AP US Government classes and the Honors Philosophy Class.