Winter Ethics Vortex Is Coming: The Fourth Big Ethical Question Slam

On tap: intriguing topics, serious fun, and a $600 grand prize

What are the ethical issues involved in driverless cars? What is ethically wrong with paying college athletes? If someone wanted to steal my credit line to finance life-saving surgery, what moral claim do I have against that person? Is it permissible for an animal shelter to sell animals for research? What are the moral limits of spying—and is there such a person as an ethical spy?

These are just a few of the questions and condundrums that will be brewed over by teams from an array of local organizations on Thursday, February 6, at 8 p.m. when hosts its fourth annual Big Ethical Question Slam at Conor O'Neill's Irish Pub. Last year's Slam attracted an overflow crowd--and this year is expected to be the same as fans of all ages and backgrounds flock to this popular happening.

Described by A2Ethics president Jeanine DeLay as a "think-off," this event was the first of its kind in the nation. Now it's catching on elsewhere. Winnipeg, Manitoba hosted Canada's first Slam last month, and other Slams are in the offing  for Seattle and New York.page1image11664 

Says, DeLay: "This is an opportunity for teams of people from local K-12 schools, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, colleges and universities, and groups of philosophically-minded friends to respond to questions impacting the broader community as well as some of the ethical muddles we all face in our everyday lives. The discussions are earnest, but judged generously and with a forgiving sense of humor." She adds that, for community organizations, the Slam is an excellent way to publicize their missions and participate in a fun, high-profile team building exercise.

The Big Ethical Question Slam was launched in 2011 with the goal of creating a practical ethics scaffolding and infrastructure in the community—what A2Ethics planners refer to as an "ethics ecosystem" or "ethosystem." The first event, held at the Arbor Brewing Company, attracted a capacity crowd, along with nine teams from groups as diverse as Community High School and a local law firm.

At last year's Slam, also held at Conor O'Neill's, more than 100 people cheered on their teams as Greenhills School walked away with the grand prize of $600 and the coveted Philosopher's Hat. This year, audience members will again participate by voting for one team to become the winner of The People's Choice Award.

Judges for Slam 4 include:

-- Susan Dorr Goold, M.D., M.H.S.A., Professor of Internal Medicine and Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan and a specialist in the allocation of scarce healthcare resources

--Irwin Martin, Associate Professor of Health Sciences at Eastern Michigan University and former senior executive for regulatory affairs at Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research Division, Warner-Lambert Company

-- Jon Shaheen, University of Michigan Department of Philosophy Ph.D. candidate, graduate student instructor, and incoming member of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy

This year's Slam will feature five teams, including groups from Arbor Hospice, Washtenaw Technical Middle College, Ethics-911 and—the defending champions from last year’s Slam—Greenhills School. "Everyone in the community is welcome and encouraged to attend," DeLay notes. "This event is not trying to impose ethics or to favor one particular way of thinking. We’re just trying to draw out the best ideas of every team member to highlight the importance of an ethics lens in our everyday thinking and daily life. And we want to do that in a celebratory way and in a companionable setting. As we say in our mission statement: our goal is to give ethics-related ideas and work a permanent voice and an essential place in the communities we serve.” 

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