The ethics of medical crowdfunding, animal research, and medical assistance in dying were just a few of the many topics addressed at this year’s National Bioethics Bowl, a competition that brings university teams together to discuss ethical challenges in biomedicine and technology.
The competition, which was hosted at Northeastern University in Boston on April 15, brought together 22 teams from colleges around the country, and a team of Georgetown University undergraduate students took home the first-place trophy in the final round after three rounds of group debates.
The undergraduates representing Georgetown were Mark Kuo (CAS ’24), Max Massick (CAS ’24), Kyle Jain (CAS ’24), Anna Hampton (CAS ’24) and Leigh Meyer (CAS ’23). They were coached by Elisa Reverman (GRD ’25) and Jacob Zionts, a first-year Georgetown graduate student, both of whom are pursuing doctorates in philosophy.
The team began preparing for the April competition in January 2023, when the bowl organizers released a packet of a dozen case studies spanning the breadth of the relatively new field of ethics, from clinical to research bioethics to organizational ethics.
Massick, a classics and economics major, said the team met weekly to prepare for the competition.
“We sit there, we try to figure out what are the real philosophical issues at the heart of the issue, and what do we think? What are different ways we can approach this? What are counterarguments?” Massick said in an interview with The Hoya.
Team members enjoy debating bioethical issues because of their applicability to real life, something Massick said includes common questions including the decision of when to stop life support for a loved one.
“There are tough calls that need to be made,” Massick said. “What’s nice about bioethics is that it connects these more philosophical questions with the actual world and making decisions.”
According to Kuo, a biology major with minors in public health and bioethics, the field of bioethics feels more tangible and accessible than philosophy.
“Oftentimes, you’re very much at the heart of matter itself rather than up in the milieu of philosophy,” Kuo told The Hoya.
In the final round of the Bioethics Bowl, the Georgetown team faced students from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in a case study about recently developed technology for the creation of “three-person babies,” where a third person’s mitochondrial DNA is transferred into a fertilized egg. The study asked contestants whether it would be ethical to use the technology to give a same-sex couple the opportunity to have offspring with DNA from both partners, as opposed to only one.
Kuo, who represented Georgetown in that final round, said the issue was nuanced — the team wanted to push for reproductive freedom, family planning and equality, but also recognized several concerns with the possibilities of such technology.
“We wanted to avoid the prickly implications of potential genetic fetishization, or the obsession with having a biological relationship to kin instead of embracing social families,” Kuo said. “It was very interesting doing that particular balancing act.”
After stating their position on the case, facing rebuttals from the opposing team, responding to the rebuttals and finally responding to questioning from a panel of judges consisting of philosophers, lawyers and doctors, Georgetown’s team was declared the winner.
Although speaking time was not evenly spread across team members, with Kuo representing Georgetown in the finals and Massick representing Georgetown in the previous three rounds, the whole team worked together to secure Georgetown the win, according to Reverman.
“One of the primary strengths of our team this year is that they’re really cohesive and that they spent a lot of hours preparing together,” Reverman told The Hoya. “I think their ability to really work as a team and communicate during competition was incredible.”
“Everyone worked like a well-oiled machine,” Massick added.
Zionts said the diversity of the students’ academic backgrounds — ranging from classics, to economics, to history, to medical humanities — was also an asset.
“This is how good bioethical scholarship works in the real world. It’s a relatively collaborative and interdisciplinary discipline,” Zionts said.
Reverman, who has now been involved with a total of seven Bioethics Bowls, said she believed in the team from the start.
“I knew that they were capable of it,” Reverman said. “The fact that they actually did was all the more exciting.”