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The term often used to describe the system or principles by which we choose right from wrong is ethics. Conflicts in ethics arise when one person or a group of people impede the beliefs of another person or group of people. It would not be possible to decide who is right or wrong when a conflict arises, but it is our moral responsibility to resolve the dilemmas to the best of our ability. This paper is going to explore the topic of ethical decision making and establish ground rules for the process and analyze possible ethical implications that may arise.
What are the ground rules?
Making an ethical decision, at times, can be extremely difficult, as emotions tend to hinder ones judgment. For example, if a husband came upon his wife being beat to death, his first impulse would likely be to bring as much pain to the attacker as the attacker brought to his wife. On the other hand, the husband would know that would not be the ethical thing to do.
For that reason, the process of making an ethical decision should be similar to making a normal decision. There are five possible steps that can be taken in order to ensure an ethical and reasonable decision.
The first step is to clarify the issue and determine precisely what must be decided. This involves gathering as much information as possible and clearly recognizing the problem. At this step, one should be forced to develop at least three ethically justifiable options and determine which ethical principles and values are involved (Five Steps, 2001).
The next step is to evaluate the issue. Evaluation involves exploring the options created in step one and realizing if they require the sacrifice of any ethical principle. Evaluation would also involve deciphering facts from beliefs and theories, or past experiences. When a person is emotionally involved, as the man was in the example above, all commonsense tends to fade. The evaluation step forces a person to ensure they are not allowing their emotions to get involved and they are purely making their decision based on facts (Five Steps, 2001).
The third step in the decision-making process is to decide what is or is not true and to make a judgment regarding what consequences are most likely to occur. At this stage, if an ethical dilemma was discovered, this is the time to evaluate the alternatives of each option and decide which would be the most ethical. For example, for the man in the example, the most ethical decision would be to restrain the man and free his wife and then call the authorities and let them handle punishing the man. It would not be to take the law into his own hands and punish the man himself, even though that is mostly like what he wants to do (Five Steps, 2001).
At this third step, it is important to incorporate the three “ethic guides” when trying to make a decision. The first guide is the golden rule, which believes that a person should treat others as they would want to be treated. The second guide is publicity. A person would need to consider how they would feel if their decision were presented to the public. Finally, the third guide is called the “kid on your-shoulder.” This forces the person to imagine following through with their decision with their children watching (Five Steps, 2001).
The fourth step in the decision-making process is developing a plan to implement the decision. If all the steps above have been followed properly, this step should be relatively easy since all the ethical risks have already been established. Finally, the fifth step is to monitor the effects of the decision. This involves being willing to change their decision if it appears their first choice is not successful. This is a constant process until the issue has been resolved (Five Steps, 2001).
What could the ground rules be?
Ethical decision-making is something that varies from person to person. Not everyone has the same beliefs of what is right and wrong. Some people believe the death penalty is inhumane and cruel while others believe it’s justice. Who is to say which person is right or wrong? No one can since ground rules and ethical behavior are subjective. The ground rules explained above are broad enough as to not force a person to overrule their own beliefs, however it is enough to make them realize, at least to them, what is right and wrong in any given situation. What should the ground rules be?
Deciding what should the ground rules be is also subjective. Each individual is going to have their own feedback and decisions on how ethical decisions should be made. I believe the best way to improve on the decision-making process would be to involve others. Even if a person follows the ground rules mentioned above, there is still going to be emotion involved. If a person could ask for another point of view, they might learn or think of something they hadn’t before.
For example, going back to the man who found his wife being beat, if there were another person present at the time, that person could help reason with the husband and realize the unethical aspect of what he wanted to do to the man. I know when I have a difficult decision to make that involves ethics I immediately involve another person. I am able to realize that I am too emotional about the situation and cannot make a reasonable decision on my own. Therefore, that is how I believe the ground rules should be changed.
What are the ethical implications of the decision?
The fifth step in the decision-making process is to monitor and modify the decision if any problems arise. This will allow the person who made the decision to either live with the implications or select another solution. If they stay with their first option, even if there are implications, at least the person can be sure they followed the steps, weighed all of the options, and this is the most appropriate solution for the issue. Making a decision not only involves implementing it, but also living with the outcome.
Ethical norms and principles have developed over time and across all different cultures (Shanks, 1997). People have been raised to weigh the difference between right and wrong when making a decision. Therefore, I believe people utilize the ground rules described above without even realizing it. That leads me to believe that ethical decision-making is an innate trait for most people, and something they make the most of on a regular basis. The sad reality is not all people have these skills or even have the ability to understand the difference between right and wrong. The challenge for us would be to share our knowledge, help others to learn the ground rules of ethical decision-making; and maybe, just maybe, our world would become a little safer.
Five steps of principled reasoning. (2001). [Online]. Available: http://www.josephsoninstitute.org (September 25, 2002).
Shanks, Thomas. (1997, Winter). Everyday ethics: morality requires regular reflection on the day-to-day decisions that confront us. Issues in Ethics. 8(1). [Online]. Available: http://www.scu.edu (September 28, 2002).
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