When a Florida urologist posted a sign on his office door telling people who voted for President Barack Obama to seek care elsewhere, media were quick to pick up on the story.
Critics of the president’s health care plan cheered. Obama supporters balked. Doctors questioned the legality of what appeared to be a doctor refusing care.
More than a year later, two groups of Northeast college students rapidly and eloquently debated the ethics of it on an early Saturday morning.
“It’s really relevant,” said Remy Ravitzka, a Union College freshman. “So much of the cases that we’re doing right now are about current events.”
The intellectual faceoff was just one of 15 cases students debated at the regional competition of the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, held Saturday at Union College. And the ethical dilemmas students from 14 colleges and universities were presented with weren’t exactly dinner conversation.
They call themselves ethicists, and they debate issues ranging from raising children without gender roles to the freedom to burn the Qur’an.
Fond of history and philosophy, Ravitzka said she has debated ethics since her freshman year in high school. She sounded off during her team’s 10-minute presentation at rapid fire pace with explanations of German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s universality theory and how it applies to the Florida doctor’s case.
Donna Dardaris, one of three judges for the Union College-Franklin Pierce University matchup, said it’s beneficial that students are thinking about issues as more than one-dimensional.
“They’re not just addressing something quickly,” said Dardaris, a Union Graduate School alumna and a current student in Union College’s Academy of Lifelong Learning. “But really when you’re confronted with issues like these to think about all of the pros and cons, you can really come to a rational, informed decision.”
The team was asked to explain whether the professional ethics of the job mean a doctor shouldn’t express an opinion about Obamacare and possibly alienate potential patients.
Sophomore philosophy major Trevor Martin answered on two fronts. As a doctor, the man was close to violating his Hippocratic oath of providing the best care possible, Martin said. But as a citizen, he was simply expressing his freedom of speech.
Few easy answers
For Dardaris, it was another example of the nuances controversial issues present — on the job and in life.
“The more you know about an issue, the more you know how to think about it and see that there’s other things that need to be taken into consideration,” she said. “I think it helps you make life decisions, too, because there are always times when you’re having to make a decision where if you do one thing, there’s something else that will be impacted.”
Union is one of 10 schools hosting Ethics Bowl competitions across the country this fall. About 40 faculty, staff and community members helped judge and moderate the matches, which were staggered throughout the day in Union’s Humanities Building and Lippman Hall.
The students participated in rounds against teams from Buffalo State College, Colgate University, Dartmouth College, Franklin Pierce University, Husson University, Manhattan College, Marist College, Moravian College, Notre Dame of Maryland University, Stevens Institute of Technology, St. John’s University, Buffalo University and Villanova University.
The top 32 teams in regional bowls will qualify to compete in the national championship at the annual meeting of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, held in Cincinnati in March.
David Leavitt, moderator for Saturday’s event and a three-year Union College ethics debater, said philosophy professors at Northeast colleges compose the case issues. Almost all of them are based on real life situations.
In the day and age of catchy media headlines and contentious political debate across the country, it’s important that young adults look beyond the black and white, he said.
“I think it tempers extreme views, so that by looking at both sides of the case it becomes really hard to rely on the extremes,” Leavitt said. “By looking at both sides, it kind of tempers your stance.”