Ethics Whisperer

Saturday, November 30, 2013

5 Ethical Quandaries

You may think that challenging ethical issues are never really resolved.  In my new book Make an Ethical Difference, I argue that we all have an innate ability to make sound ethical judgments. Not only do we have an innate ethics sense, we can use it to resolve even the thorniest ethical issues. Here are some examples of ethical quandaries that arise in everyday life, along with some tips on how to resolve them. Post your solutions here.

Five Ethical Quandaries and How to Think Through Them

Quandary #1: An Offer You Can’t Refuse?

Just after your current employer has promoted you and given you a substantial raise, you receive an attractive job offer from a direct competitor. When you got your promotion, you told your boss that you were “in it for the long haul,” but now you are not so sure. You wonder if you should tell your boss about the offer.

How to Think This Through

You have to decide if you owe loyalty to your employer and your boss. Even though your current company promoted you, the promotion was based on merit, not loyalty. To make an ethically sound decision, look at the situation in the eyes of the other affected parties. If you were in their shoes, what would you expect? And, more importantly, is this expectation reasonable?

Quandary #2: My Back Yard

A developer wants to build a casino immediately adjacent to your neighborhood. You recognize that the casino will benefit most of the community - except for those who live adjacent to it. You wonder if it is right to oppose the casino based on your interests and the interests of a few others in the community.

How to Think This Through

While you are correct to consider the benefits to all concerned, there is more to the story. You also need to consider the benefits of having a system of property use that protects property holders. So it comes down to whether the benefits to the community outweigh the benefits of protecting the rights of property holders. Be sure to factor in your own bias as someone directly affected by the casino.

Quandary #3: No Pain

You are a doctor and one of your patients who opposes euthanasia on religious grounds, asks you to do whatever is necessary to stop his pain. The level of drugs needed to stop the pain will almost certainly kill the patient in short order. The patient recognizes this but still wants the pain stopped.

How to Think This Through

The ethical rules of the patient prohibit euthanasia and yet you are being asked to participate in actions having the same outcome as euthanasia. Consider your own ethical rules on how to practice medicine. You are being asked to challenge your own conscience in order to relieve the patient's conscience. This is not just between you and the patient, but between you and your conscience.

Quandary #4: Bell Curve Blues

A scientific experiment you conducted on inheritance seems to inadvertently show that people of certain races are less intelligent than people of other races. You wonder whether you should publish this research. You know that many will distort your conclusions to support their own racist beliefs.

How to Think This Through

While a scientist is required to respect the scientific method, this does not mean that you have to publish everything the data supports. While you have to face the facts, you do not have to publicize them especially if they are open to misinterpretation. You have to decide whether the benefits of sharing this research publicly outweigh the likely fall out from it.

Quandary #5: Speed Kills

The company you work for is deciding whether to build a super fast car for street use. There is a demand for the car and your company needs the boost this signature product would give it. But you wonder if it is right to produce a car that capable of travelling at two or three times any posted speed limit.

How to Think This Through

Consider the interests of the parties to this situation While the interests of your company are clear enough, you have to consider the interests of those who might be affected if the car is built and sold. It is not only the drivers of superfast cars that are injured by them. On the other hand, if your company does not build the car, won't some other company make an equally fast car?  Does this make a difference?


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