An ethical decision helps a person to make a choice when faced with a situation in which there is no clear right or wrong decision. The word ethical is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as “Involving or expressing moral approval or disapproval. ” Making an ethical decision is one of the most difficult things a person can have to do in their life. What one person may consider to be a good and moral option, another may consider that to be an unthinkable option. In order to make a good ethical decision, one must consider every possible outcome and consequence.
They must also attempt to keep in mind how the decision will affect each of the parties involved. The first thing one must consider when making an ethical decision is what the outcome may be. If the person making the decision latches on to the first choice they are presented with there could be a terrible outcome that they did not consider. Every possible path and choice has to be explored so that each outcome can be thoroughly examined before coming to the most logical and morally acceptable decision. An example of this would be the lifeboat experiment.
In the lifeboat experiment, a ship is sinking and all the lifeboats are destroyed except for one. The single remaining lifeboat is made to only hold fifty people but if necessary could hold ten more people. The lifeboat has fifty people on in and is surrounded by one hundred people in the water. How do you decide who to rescue? This situation is similar to a quote by Rosetta Lee, an experienced educator; “For example, which of several candidates should be first in line for and organ transplant? ” (Lee 289) It is crucial when deciding what choice to make that all of the outcomes be considered.
If you announce that the boat is taking only ten more survivors on board it may cause mass hysteria and the people would swarm the boat causing it to sink and everyone dies. Another outcome is, that if those on the boat did manage to rescue ten more people now the safety of the boat is at risk since it is over capacity, and there may not be enough supplies and rations to ensure everyone will live until rescued. A third possible outcome is not saving anyone, which means the survivors would have to fight off people trying to get on the boat as well as live with the guilt of not rescuing all those people as they will now surely die.
Stanley Milgram a Yale phycologist says, “Participants were exposed to extremely stressful situations that may have had potential to cause psychological harm. ” (Mclead 590. ) Even when time is short and there seems to only be one choice is it always necessary to take a moment and consider all of the possible outcomes. Considering the possible outcomes is not the only challenge of making an ethical decision. One must consider each individual and keep their best interests in mind before coming to a conclusion.
While it is usually true that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, it is still important to think of each individual and how it will affect them. Many times after horrible acts of genocide those accused of those acts claim that they were just following the orders of their superiors. In 1961 Stanley Milgram devised an experiment to answer this, the conflict of obedience to authority and personal conscience. Milgram wanted to see how far an individual would go in following orders to harm another human being.
As Joel Stein, an American journalist, said; “Once society makes a new moral decision we’ve got to quickly mop up the resisters. ” (Stein) The experiment was that the participant was paired with another person and they drew lots to find out who would be the ‘learner and who would be the ‘teacher’. The draw was rigged so that the participant was always the teacher, and the learner was one of Milgram’s confederates (pretending to be a real participant). The learner was then taken into a room where he then had electrodes attached to his arms.
The teacher and researcher then went into the room next door that contained the electric shock generator which had several choices of shocks; slight shock (15 volts), danger: severe shock (375 volts), and xxx (450 volts). When asked a series of questions the teacher had to administer a shock every time the learner answered wrong, the level of shock was to increase at every wrong answer. If the teacher hesitated to administer a shock there was another person called the experimenter who had to remind them that for the experiment to continue they must administer a shock.
Diana Baumrind a clinical and developmental psychologist says, “Unfortunately the subject is not always treated with respect he deserves. ” (Baumrind 189) After the experiment was concluded tests were run to ensure each of the participants suffered no lasting physical harm. Milgram found that in most cases people are willing to follow orders given by authority figure even if it was to kill another human being, because obedience to an authority figure is so ingrained in humans from a young age. While Milgram had an interesting findings, the fact that he hid that the learner was one of his associates made the whole thing a setup.
Not only that, even though Milgram ensured the individuals were physically well the experiment could have lasting mental damage. In an ethical decision one must consider each individual involved and how every part of the decision will affect each person on not only a physical level but an emotional and mental level as well. As previously established making an ethical decision can be demanding and seemingly impossible in some instances. No matter how well the person making the ethical decision considers each person involved and every possible outcome there is always the chance that not everyone involved will agree with the decision made.
Each and every person has a different moral code and set of ideals, so what one person may deem moral and other may see as completely unspeakable. Diana Baumrind a phycologist wrote a review of Milgram’s Experiment on Obedience in which she expressed her extreme disapproval of the way that Milgram lied to his participants. While Milgram had no issue in withholding information from his subjects in the experiment, Baumrind takes the stance that keeping the truth from those put in a position to have to trust Milgram was a violation of their personal rights.
The lifeboat experiment mentioned before is yet another example of an ethical decision that people may not agree with the choice made. While the majority of the boat could agree not to take on more passengers, the minority could argue that in not taking them on they are committing a heinous crime. There will never be a situation in which you can please everyone in a situation. In the end an ethical decision is simply just trying to make the best choice in a difficult situation. Not matter how long and hard you consider every factor or outcome there will always be someone who disagrees with the decision.
College professor Ross Bellaby was quoted as saying, ” As the professional practice of intelligence collection adapts to the changing environment and new threats of the twenty-first century, many new academic experts and intelligence professionals call for a coherent ethical framework that outlines exactly when, by what means, and to what ends intelligence justified. ” (Bellaby) No matter the stressful or morally ambiguous situation you find yourself in, you must always strive to make a well informed moral ethical decision.