What Is an Ethical Dilemma? (2022)

×

Expand

(Video) What is an Ethical Dilemma?

What Is an Ethical Dilemma? (1)

Ethical Dilemma Table 1

By: Karen Allen, Ph.D., LMSW

Social workers are routinely confronted with ethical dilemmas in practice, and social work programs infuse their courses with professional ethics and values to help students prepare for this eventuality. The Council on Social Work Education (2008) requires that students learn how to “apply social work ethical principles to guide practice, engage in ethical decision making, recognize and manage personal values in a way that allows professional values to guide practice, and tolerate ambiguity in resolving ethical conflicts” (EPAS 2.1.2).

Social work students become familiar with the Code of Ethics, learn one of the various models on ethical decision making (Congress, 1999; Dolgoff, Loewenberg, & Harrington, 2009; Reamer, 1995) and, at some point in their education, are typically required to write a paper on an ethical dilemma. However, students are not routinely taught how to recognize what an ethical dilemma is. Correctly identifying an ethical dilemma is the first step in resolving it.

What Is an Ethical Dilemma?

There are three conditions that must be present for a situation to be considered an ethical dilemma. The first condition occurs in situations when an individual, called the “agent,” must make a decision about which course of action is best. Situations that are uncomfortable but that don’t require a choice, are not ethical dilemmas. For example, students in their internships are required to be under the supervision of an appropriately credentialed social work field instructor. Therefore, because there is no choice in the matter, there is no ethical violation or breach of confidentiality when a student discusses a case with the supervisor. The second condition for ethical dilemma is that there must be different courses of action to choose from. Third, in an ethical dilemma, no matter what course of action is taken, some ethical principle is compromised. In other words, there is no perfect solution.

(Video) Ethical dilemma: The burger murders - George Siedel and Christine Ladwig

In determining what constitutes an ethical dilemma, it is necessary to make a distinction between ethics, values, morals, and laws and policies. Ethics are prepositional statements (standards) that are used by members of a profession or group to determine what the right course of action in a situation is. Ethics rely on logical and rational criteria to reach a decision, an essentially cognitive process (Congress, 1999; Dolgoff, Loewenberg, & Harrington, 2009; Reamer, 1995; Robison & Reeser, 2002). Values, on the other hand, describe ideas that we value or prize. To value something means that we hold it dear and feel it has worth to us. As such, there is often a feeling or affective component associated with values (Allen & Friedman, 2010). Often, values are ideas that we aspire to achieve, like equality and social justice. Morals describe a behavioral code of conduct to which an individual ascribes. They are used to negotiate, support, and strengthen our relationships with others (Dolgoff, Loewenberg, & Harrington, 2009).

Finally, laws and agency policies are often involved in complex cases, and social workers are often legally obligated to take a particular course of action. Standard 1.07j of the Code of Ethics (NASW, 1996) recognizes that legal obligations may require social workers to share confidential information (such as in cases of reporting child abuse) but requires that we protect confidentiality to the “extent permitted by law.” Although our profession ultimately recognizes the rule of law, we are also obligated to work to change unfair and discriminatory laws. There is considerably less recognition of the supremacy of agency policy in the Code, and Ethical Standard 3.09d states that we must not allow agency policies to interfere with our ethical practice of social work.

It is also essential that the distinction be made between personal and professional ethics and values (Congress, 1999; Wilshere, 1997). Conflicts between personal and professional values should not be considered ethical dilemmas for a number of reasons. Because values involve feelings and are personal, the rational process used for resolving ethical dilemmas cannot be applied to values conflicts. Further, when an individual elects to become a member of a profession, he or she is agreeing to comply with the standards of the profession, including its Code of Ethics and values. Recent court cases have supported a profession’s right to expect its members to adhere to professional values and ethics. (See, for example, the Jennifer Keeton case at Augusta State University and the Julea Ward case at Eastern Michigan University.) The Council on Social Work Education states that students should “recognize and manage personal values in a way that allows professional values to guide practice” (EPAS 1.1). Therefore, although they can be difficult and uncomfortable, conflicts involving personal values should not be considered ethical dilemmas.

Two Types of Dilemmas

An “absolute” or “pure” ethical dilemma only occurs when two (or more) ethical standards apply to a situation but are in conflict with each other. For example, a social worker in a rural community with limited mental health care services is consulted on a client with agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder involving a fear of open and public spaces. Although this problem is outside of the clinician’s general competence, the limited options for treatment, coupled with the client`s discomfort in being too far from home, would likely mean the client might not receive any services if the clinician declined on the basis of a lack of competence (Ethical Standard 1.04). Denying to see the patient then would be potentially in conflict with our commitment to promote the well-being of clients (Ethical Standard 1.01). This is a pure ethical dilemma because two ethical standards conflict. It can be resolved by looking at Ethical Standard 4.01, which states that social workers should only accept employment (or in this case, a client) on the basis of existing competence or with “the intention to acquire the necessary competence.” The social worker can accept the case, discussing the present limits of her expertise with the client and following through on her obligation to seek training or supervision in this area.

However, there are some complicated situations that require a decision but may also involve conflicts between values, laws, and policies. Although these are not absolute ethical dilemmas, we can think of them as “approximate” dilemmas. For example, an approximate dilemma occurs when a social worker is legally obligated to make a report of child or domestic abuse and has concerns about the releasing of information. The social worker may experience tension between the legal requirement to report and the desire to respect confidentiality. However, because the NASW Code of Ethics acknowledges our obligation to follow legal requirements and to intervene to protect the vulnerable, technically, there is no absolute ethical dilemma present. However, the social worker experiences this as a dilemma of some kind and needs to reach some kind of resolution. Breaking the situation down and identifying the ethics, morals, values, legal issues, and policies involved as well as distinguishing between personal and professional dimensions can help with the decision-making process in approximate dilemmas. Table 1 (at beginning of this article) is an illustration of how these factors might be considered.

Conclusion

(Video) The ethical dilemma of designer babies | Paul Knoepfler

When writing an ethical dilemma paper or when attempting to resolve an ethical dilemma in practice, social workers should determine if it is an absolute or approximate dilemma; distinguish between personal and professional dimensions; and identify the ethical, moral, legal, and values considerations in the situation. After conducting this preliminary analysis, an ethical decision-making model can then be appropriately applied.  

References

Allen, K. N., & Friedman, B. (2010). Affective learning: A taxonomy for teaching social work values. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 7 (2). Retrieved from http://www.socialworker.com/jswve.

Council on Social Work Education. (2008). Education policy and accreditation standards (EPAS). Retrieved from http://www.cswe.org/NR/rdonlyres/2A 81732E-1776-4175-AC42-65974E96BE66/0/2008EducationalPolicyandAccreditationStandards.pdf.

Dolgoff, R., Lowenberg, F. M., & Harrington, D. (2009). Ethical decisions for social work practice (8th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Congress, E. P. (1999). Social work values and ethics: Identifying and resolving professional dilemmas. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Group/Thompson Learning.

National Association of Social Workers. (1996, revised 1999). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Washington, DC: Author.

(Video) Ethical dilemma: Who should you believe? - Alex Worsnip

Reamer, F. (1995). Social work values and ethics. New York: Columbia University Press.

Robison, W., & Reeser, L. C. (2002). Ethical decision making for social workers. New York: Allyn & Bacon.

Wilshere, P. J. (1997). Personal values: professional questions. The New Social Worker, 4 (1), 13.

Karen Allen, Ph.D., LMSW, is an associate professor at Oakland University’s Social Work Program.

This article appeared in THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER, Spring 2012, Vol. 19, No. 2. All rights reserved. Please contact the publisher/editor for permission to reprint/reproduce.

Related articles:

  • Analysis of an Ethical Dilemma
  • The 2017 NASW Code of Ethics: What's New?
  • Gifts From Clients: The Good, the Bad, and the Ethically Ugly

FAQs

What Is an Ethical Dilemma? ›

What is ethical dilemma with example? ›

Some examples of ethical dilemma include: Taking credit for others' work. Offering a client a worse product for your own profit. Utilizing inside knowledge for your own profit.

How do you define an ethical dilemma? ›

What Is an Ethical Dilemma? The Oxford dictionary defines an ethical dilemma as, “a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two courses of action, either of which entails transgressing a moral principle.”

What are the 4 ethical dilemmas? ›

In LDRS 111 you were introduced to four different ethical dilemma paradigms: truth vs loyalty, short-term vs long-term, individual vs community, and justice vs mercy.

What are the 3 ethical dilemmas? ›

22. Three types of ethical dilemmas
Ethical dilemma
1Choosing between options with conflicting merits and costs
2The values of intended beneficiaries clash with those of humanitarian institutions
3Ethical conflicts perceived within a hierarchy of moral obligations

What are some real life examples of ethical dilemmas? ›

16 Real-Life Examples of Ethical Dilemmas
  • Should parents monitor teens' social media activities? ...
  • Reporting an accident.
  • Ghosting in the workplace.
  • Medical care versus religious beliefs.
  • Misinterpret data deliberately?
  • Share my political leanings and risk losing clients?
  • Internet dilemmas.
Mar 16, 2021

What is an example of an ethical dilemma in school? ›

A big ethical dilemma is bullying. Teachers need to be aware that students are not being bullied by other students or teachers such as the case in the Sun Sentinel paper. Two girls were bullying and harassing another girl to the point that the girl committed suicide.

Why is ethical dilemma important? ›

An understanding of ethical dilemmas will give you a better idea of how you can resolve them should they arise. Prompt resolution of ethical dilemmas ensures efficient operations, keeps employee morale high, enhances the strength of leadership, and improves the public profile of companies.

Why do ethical dilemmas occur? ›

Ethical dilemmas arise when a difficult problem cannot be solved in a way that will satisfy everyone who is involved. The same dilemma might occur when a situation arises that involves a choice between equally unsatisfactory alternatives.

What are the characteristics of ethical dilemma? ›

There is a right and wrong choice.

In an ethical dilemma, you must decide between doing the right thing and the wrong thing. This is true even if you aren't sure yet what the right thing is! Sometimes the right choice is very clear, but sometimes it requires more work to figure it out.

How do you solve an ethical dilemma? ›

Resolving an Ethical Dilemma
  1. Know the Principles. In ethical decision making there are three basic principles that can be used for resolution of problem. ...
  2. Debate Moral Choices. ...
  3. Balance Sheet Approach. ...
  4. Engage People Up and Down the Hierarchy. ...
  5. Integrating Ethical Decision Making into Strategic Management.

How do you handle an ethical dilemma? ›

Here are some steps you can take to highlight your concerns without risking your job or your own ethics:
  1. Repeat Back and Clarify. ...
  2. Ask Ethical Questions. ...
  3. Focus on your Manager's Best Interests. ...
  4. Suggest an Alternative Solution. ...
  5. Escalate Situations. ...
  6. Blow the whistle. ...
  7. Leave Unethical Environments, If Necessary.
Jan 13, 2022

What is an ethical dilemma in the workplace? ›

You may be faced with an ethical dilemma when something at work goes against your personal ethics, morals and values. This could be something that one of your colleagues or managers is doing, or something that you are doing yourself.

What is an example of an ethical dilemma in social work? ›

Example: Involuntary Commitment

Zack describes to his social worker in specific detail how he would like to harm his partner. Zack also exhibits disorientation, laughs and becomes aggressive as he describes his intent to do harm. The ethical dilemma for the social worker is between confidentiality and duty to warn.

What are some modern ethical dilemmas? ›

Emerging ethical dilemmas in science and technology
  • Personalized genetic tests/personalized medicine. ...
  • Hacking into medical devices. ...
  • Driverless Zipcars. ...
  • 3-D printing. ...
  • Adaptation to climate change. ...
  • Low-quality and counterfeit pharmaceuticals. ...
  • Autonomous systems. ...
  • Human-animal hybrids (chimeras)
Dec 17, 2012

What are some ethical dilemmas for students? ›

Five Ethical Dilemmas Freshmen Face
  • Do I have to conform? It's human nature—everyone wants to fit in. ...
  • Do I pick a major based on passion or post-graduate salary? ...
  • Do I have to adhere to “hookup culture”? ...
  • How do I live with someone else? ...
  • Do I party?
Oct 7, 2014

What are some common ethical dilemmas in education? ›

The Main Ethical Issues Schools Face
  • Social Inequity. One of the biggest ethical issues that any school today faces is that of social inequity. ...
  • Cheating. Cheating has been a prominent historical issue in every school. ...
  • Social Diversity. ...
  • Special Treatment. ...
  • Discipline. ...
  • Grading Exams. ...
  • Bullying. ...
  • Uniforms.
Feb 3, 2022

What is an example of an ethical dilemma in child care? ›

The example of an ethical dilemma we often give is the case of the mother who asks a teacher not to let her child nap at school because when he sleeps in the afternoon he has a hard time falling asleep at night.

What are the 4 steps for solving ethical dilemmas? ›

A rudimentary framework for how managers engage in the decision making process contains four steps.
  1. 1) Identify the problem.
  2. 2) Generate alternatives.
  3. 3) Decide on a course of action.
  4. 4) Implement.

What is the difference between an ethical issue and an ethical dilemma? ›

The ethical decision- making process for an ethical issue such as this should occur quickly, leading to an easy resolution, since there is no conflict between principles. Typically, an ethical dilemma, on the other hand, exists when two or more ethical principles or standards are conflicting with each other.

What is an ethical dilemma example in the workplace? ›

Taking Credit for Others' Work

If employees single out their co-workers in a negative light, it could foment resentment. The same thing could happen, however, if all employees accept equal praise even though only a select few did the real work. The best way to resolve this ethical dilemma is to not let it happen.

What is an example of an ethical dilemma in business? ›

False accounting, sexual harassment, data privacy, nepotism, discrimination—these are just some of the ethical dilemmas that happen in today's workplace. Many business owners and managers will deal with ethical issues at some point in their career.

What are some examples of ethics? ›

Ethics, for example, refers to those standards that impose the reasonable obligations to refrain from rape, stealing, murder, assault, slander, and fraud. Ethical standards also include those that enjoin virtues of honesty, compassion, and loyalty.

What is an example of an ethical dilemma in social work? ›

Example: Involuntary Commitment

Zack describes to his social worker in specific detail how he would like to harm his partner. Zack also exhibits disorientation, laughs and becomes aggressive as he describes his intent to do harm. The ethical dilemma for the social worker is between confidentiality and duty to warn.

How do you resolve an ethical dilemma? ›

Resolving an Ethical Dilemma
  1. Know the Principles. In ethical decision making there are three basic principles that can be used for resolution of problem. ...
  2. Debate Moral Choices. ...
  3. Balance Sheet Approach. ...
  4. Engage People Up and Down the Hierarchy. ...
  5. Integrating Ethical Decision Making into Strategic Management.

What causes ethical dilemmas? ›

Ethical dilemmas happen because ethics are inherently contradictory. Employees may face situations where compromising on telling the truth or following the law seems to serve other valued goals, such as maximizing profits or avoiding layoffs.

What are the 5 biggest ethical issues facing businesses? ›

5 Common Ethical Issues in the Workplace
  • Unethical Leadership. Having a personal issue with your boss is one thing, but reporting to a person who is behaving unethically is another. ...
  • Toxic Workplace Culture. ...
  • Discrimination and Harassment. ...
  • Unrealistic and Conflicting Goals. ...
  • Questionable Use of Company Technology.
Jan 12, 2022

What are the characteristics of ethical dilemma? ›

There is a right and wrong choice.

In an ethical dilemma, you must decide between doing the right thing and the wrong thing. This is true even if you aren't sure yet what the right thing is! Sometimes the right choice is very clear, but sometimes it requires more work to figure it out.

Videos

1. MORAL DILEMMAS| Chapter 1 Topic 3|
(Ian Gonzales)
2. Ethical Dilemmas | How to respond to them
(Jasmine Ama)
3. What is an ethical dilemma?
(Universidad de Deusto / Deustuko Unibertsitatea)
4. Ethical dilemma: Would you lie? - Sarah Stroud
(TED-Ed)
5. Ethical Decision Making: Kinds of Ethical Dilemmas
(Global Ethics Solutions)
6. The ethical dilemma of self-driving cars - Patrick Lin
(TED-Ed)

Top Articles

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Zonia Mosciski DO

Last Updated: 12/16/2022

Views: 5607

Rating: 4 / 5 (71 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Zonia Mosciski DO

Birthday: 1996-05-16

Address: Suite 228 919 Deana Ford, Lake Meridithberg, NE 60017-4257

Phone: +2613987384138

Job: Chief Retail Officer

Hobby: Tai chi, Dowsing, Poi, Letterboxing, Watching movies, Video gaming, Singing

Introduction: My name is Zonia Mosciski DO, I am a enchanting, joyous, lovely, successful, hilarious, tender, outstanding person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.