Ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions

Ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions

What is Ethical Dilemma?

  • Ethical dilemmas or moral dilemmas or ethical paradoxes, are situations in which there is a choice to be made between two options, neither of which resolves the situation in an ethically acceptable fashion. In such cases, societal and personal ethical guidelines can provide no satisfactory outcome for the chooser.
  • An ethical dilemma is a complex situation that often involves an apparent mental conflict between moral imperatives, in which to obey one would result in transgressing another.

Types of Ethical Dilemmas:

  • Ethical  dilemmas are in three broad categories:
  1. Personal Cost Ethical Dilemmas: It arises from situations in which compliance with ethical conduct results in a significant personal cost to the decision maker in an difficult situation.
  2. Right-versus-Right Ethical Dilemmas: It arises from situations of two or more conflicting sets of bonafide ethical values.
  3. Conjoint Ethical Dilemmas: It arises when a careful decision-maker is exposed to a combination of the above-indicated ethical dilemmas in searching for the “right-thing-to do”.
  • Ethical dilemmas also arise in the following situation:
  1. When his professional directives are in contrast with his own personal values
  2. Working towards the best interest of the community versus being responsive to the government.
  3. Ethical dilemmas can arise, when two equally striking options are justified as `right’ in certain situations.
  4. For a public servant attempting to function as a professional, the demands of law, his duty, fairness, due process, provides a productive ground in which ethical dilemmas arises. Whistle blowers face this problem because their disclosure may institute a crime when the on-going misconduct is severe.
  5. Ethical standards are not codified, so there are always chances that dilemma arises and disagreements always occur about proper behaviour.
  6. An ethical dilemma arises in a situation when the choices or behaviour is undesirable and presents harmful ethical consequences. Right or wrong is not clearly identifiable.

Process of resolving an ethical dilemma in administration

  • An ethical dilemma is more complex and demanding than a problem of what it appears to be. These dilemmas cannot be solved based on its initial status of presentation. The decision maker faces a difficult situation in which he faces mutually exclusive alternatives that choosing one option means negating the other that is equally important.
  • However a dilemma is also dealt appropriately by altering and reformulating all the options in a systematic and coherent manner. To resolve ethical dilemmas, a sequence of logical reasoning sets is proposed to integrate and rearrange the process of dealing with ethical dilemmas. They are:
  1. Accountability: The loyalty of the bureaucracy to the ministers is grounded on their obligation to be answerable and responsible to the legislature who is accountable to the will of the people and their general interest. It is then a fundamental ethical duty bearing on civil servants to show a spirit of impartiality and discretion and keep their own personal preferences out in the performance of their duties and responsibilities.
  2. The rule of law and the principle of legality: The rule of law is fundamental and universal to politics and society. Respect and adherence to the principle of legality is an important requirement to exercise authority. Law establishes the minimum standard for morality. Unethical conduct means violation of law. Thus far enforcement of law should be priority in case of dilemma.
  3. Professional integrity: In administrative profession, knowledge and expertise should be used with certain standards defining professional ethics such as, avoiding corruption in the delivery of services.
  4. Responsiveness: The government responsiveness to its citizens is a key issue in political economy. In this respect, ethical reasoning in state action entails that public institutions be responsive to society and pay attention to the needs and demands of the people, facilitating access to services and creating an enabling environment for sustainable human and social development.

Ethical Dilemma Situations:

Personal Friendships

  • Ram had several friends including Shyam and Mohan. Shyam has recently met and started dating a wonderful lady named Deepa. He is convinced this is a long term relationship. Unknown to Shyam, Ram observed them at a restaurant several days ago and realized Deepa is the wife of his other friend Mohan.
  • Ram is deciding whether to tell Shyam that Deepa is married when he receives a call from Mohan. Mohan suspects his wife is having an affair and since they and Ram share many friends and contacts, he asks if Ram has heard anything regarding an affair.
  • To whom does Michael owe greater friendship to in this situation? No matter who he tells, he is going to end up hurting one, if not both friends. Does he remain silent and hope his knowledge is never discovered?

Societal Dilemmas

  • A pregnant woman leading a group of people out of a cave on a coast is stuck in the mouth of that cave. In a short time high tide will be upon them, and unless she is unstuck, they will all be drowned except the woman, whose head is out of the cave. Fortunately, (or unfortunately,) someone has with him a stick of dynamite. There seems no way to get the pregnant woman loose without using the dynamite which will inevitably kill her; but if they do not use it everyone will drown. What should they do?

Information Access:

  • Tony, a data analyst for a major casino, is working after normal business hours to finish an important project. He realizes that he is missing data that had been sent to his coworker Robert.Tony had inadvertently observed Robert typing his password several days ago and decides to log into Robert’s computer and resend the data to himself. Upon doing so, Tony sees an open email regarding gambling bets Robert placed over the last several days with a local sports book. All employees of the casino are forbidden to engage in gambling activities to avoid any hint of conflict of interest.
  • Tony knows he should report this but would have to admit to violating the company’s information technology regulations by logging into Robert’s computer. If he warns Robert to stop his betting, he would also have to reveal the source of his information. What does Tony do in this situation?

Professional Life Versus Family Life:

  • Akash works in the claims department of a major hospital. Paperwork on a recent admission shows that a traumatic mugging caused the patient to require an adjustment in the medication she is prescribed to control anxiety and mood swings. Akash is struck by the patient’s unusual last name and upon checking her employment information realizes she is one of his daughter’s grade school teachers.
  • Akash’s daughter seems very happy in her school and he cannot violate patient confidentiality by informing the school of a teacher’s mental illness but he is not comfortable with a potentially unstable person in a position of influence and supervision over his eight year old daughter. Can Akash reconcile these issues in an ethical manner?

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