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Bioethics Bowl Challenges Students to Debate Health-Related Dilemmas

April 04, 2016
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nicholas andoie, asmaa odeh, max bechtel

2016 Bioethics Bowl winners from left to right: Freshman Max Bechtel,
junior Asmaa Odeh, and senior Nicholas Andoie.

Kyle Verduin, a freshman in the School of Business, stepped outside his comfort zone to take part in the 2016 University of Miami Bioethics Bowl. “You have to think on your feet about issues that don’t have a clear right or wrong answer,” said Verduin, who plans to major in accounting. “This competition really pushes all us – in a good way.”

Verduin was one of a dozen undergraduates who tested their verbal and ethical reasoning skills in the team competition on April 3, which was co-hosted by the School's Business Ethics Program and the Miller School of Medicine Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy. The winning team of senior Nicholas Andoie, junior Asmaa Odeh, and freshman Max Bechtel, successfully argued their position in three cases involving health care ethics, including “Please Don’t Feed Him,” where the family of an 84-year-old nursing home resident suffering from dementia asks the staff to let him starve to death.

Anita Cava, professor of business law and director of the School's Business Ethics Program and co-director of University’s Ethics Programs, said the annual Bioethics Bowl, like the School’s Ethics Bowl, challenges students to think critically about timely real-world issues. “Our decisions in health care, law, and every aspect of business are shaped by our sense of ethics,” she said. “Because ethics is one of the pillars of our business school, the Bioethics Bowl is an important component of our program, and we will be seeking ongoing support to sustain this exciting and engaging student competition.”

Assessing the student teams were six volunteer judges: attorney Regina Campbell, nurse practitioner and manager Ann-Lynn Denker, and Dan Corrigan, Adam Hauptfeld, Haley Mathis, Ted Locke and Rina Tzinman, all doctoral students in the University’s Department of Philosophy.

“Ethics provides the foundation for how we conduct ourselves, both personally and professionally,” said Campbell, of the Campbell Law Group. “I enjoyed the experience of watching the students wrestle with these important issues.”

For example, two student teams debated whether emergency room physicians should be required to take a hypothetical drug that enhances cognitive skills and reduces medical errors with no long-term ill effects. While Matt Kruger and his teammates said use of the drug should be mandatory, Ben Wright disagreed. “Given the benefits of the drug, the hospital should inform physicians, but not require them to take it,” he said. “A mandatory policy would infringe on an individual’s rights – plus further studies might show health problems from the drug.”

The case also prompted several questions from the judges about the implications of hospital policies. “Why should hospitals require doctors and nurses to take influenza shots every year, but not a drug that improves patient outcomes?” asked one judge.

After a quick team discussion, Faraah Bekheet said the difference is that flu shots prevent a contagious disease that could harm patients as well as health care professionals. “She added, “Since performance-enhancing drugs are banned in athletic competitions, wouldn’t it be a double standard to require physicians to take them? Let’s take an ethical approach here and let physicians decide for themselves.”

Participating in the Bioethics Bowl has had tangible results for Melanie DiPietro, a Bioethics Bowl team member and captain from 2009 - 2011, who returned to campus to participate in the Business Plan Competition with a script for a Hollywood movie. DiPietro, a Communication major, was inspired by her junior year experience with the Bioethics bowl to base her senior thesis film on a related issue. With support from the University's Ethics Programs and its co-directors, Anita Cava and Ken Goodman, DiPietro made a provocative movie…and took it to Hollywood upon graduation. While on campus, DiPietro visited Professor Cava and presented her with a dvd of  “The Shift, ” a movie she co-produced starring Danny Glover and exploring life and death decisions being made during a 12 hour period in an emergency room. 

“This was just a wonderful and unexpected surprise,” said Professor Cava. “We go into teaching for the outcome and how exciting to see the seeds planted in a bioethics bowl a few years ago mature into a feature film. I’m looking forward to attending the screening on campus next fall.“

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