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Ethical Concerns and Dilemmas in Government and Private Institutions

What Is Ethical Dilemma? | Ethical Concerns and Dilemmas in Government and Private Institutions

  • Ethical dilemmas are situations in which there is a choice to be made between two options, neither of which resolves the situation in morally satisfactory manner. It is a circumstance that requires a choice between competing ideologies in a given, usually undesirable or confusing situation.

Types of Ethical Dilemmas

Ethical dilemmas are in three broad categories:

  • Personal Cost Ethical Dilemmas: It rises from situations in which compliance with ethical conduct results in a substantial personal cost to the decision maker in a problematic situation.
  • Conjoint Ethical Dilemmas: It develops when a careful decision-maker is exposed to an amalgamation of the above-indicated ethical dilemmas in searching for the “right-thing-to do”.
  • Right-versus-Right Ethical Dilemmas: It arises from situations of two or more conflicting sets of bonafide moral values.

Ethical Dilemma Situations

  • When his expert directives are in contrast with his own personal values
  • Working towards the best interest of the community versus being responsive to the government.
  • Ethical dilemmas can arise, when two equally striking options are acceptable as `right’ in certain situations.

Potential Sources Of Ethical Dilemmas In Public Institutions

  • Administrative dilemma: The promotion of general welfare depends on the use or exploitation of administrative discretion. For ex: Public servants given a responsibility to approve a project to build a dam which would provide irrigation water to lakhs of acres. However, such approval could displace thousands of tribes.
  • Public accountability and administrative secrecy: Not having enough transparency in all processes due to confidentiality.  Ex: whether the cost and process of Rafael deal should be put in public domain or secrecy for national security must be maintained.
  • Law and compassion: For ex: A needy person who does not fulfil the one or two criteria of a welfare scheme but due to empathy and compassion, a public servant may want to help him/her. A dilemma here is between empathy, compassion and following the prescribed law.
  • Policy dilemmas: Working towards the best interest of the community versus being responsive to the government. For ex: a favour of capitalism/liberal economy to sustain economic growth versus state ownership to maintain fair distribution of resources.
  • Personal morals: When the directives are in contrast with own personal values of public officials.
  • Personal interest and duty: For ex: When an Army officer is in a critical location handling key duties and his mother is sick or wife is pregnant and needs his presence at home.

Ethical Principles that should be followed in Public Office

  • Legality and Rationality :
    • Function within the limits set by the laws
    • Decisions should be based on rationality rather than personal beliefs.
  • Responsibility and Accountability :
    • Work Commitment:
    • An administrator should be committed to his duties
  • Fusion:
    • fusion of individual, organisational and social goals
  • Utilitarianism:
    • While making policies and decisions, an administrator should ensure  greatest good (happiness, benefits) of the greatest number.
  • Responsiveness :
    • Respond effectively to demands & challenges from outside as well as, from within organisation.
  • Compassion to weaker & vulnerable sections
  • National Interest
  • Maintain Transparency
  • Ensure Integrity

Potential sources of ethical dilemmas in Private institutions

  • Company rules over personal morals: For ex: An honest person facing dilemma over carrying out a dishonest company pitching knowing that it is not as beneficial as exhibited.
  • Personal job security over wrong dismissal of colleague: For ex: When an employee knows his/her colleague has not done the mistake he/she has been blamed for by the upper level management, but does not speak up because of fear of losing job. Another scenario is where the person knows the upper level employee is guilty but he/she does not complain because of fear of being fired.
  • Professional duty and personal life: When you have to honour confidentiality of patients, clients etc but know a controversy or crisis is going to be caused.
  • Societal dilemmas: For ex: When you know someone is being unfairly treated but continue staying silent over the matter because of societal impression and acceptance.

Principles to be used in Solving Dilemmas

  • Follow Rule of Law : Act should always be within the rules of law. Hence, if competing choices are such that one is within the ambit of law and other outside law, then one must go with law .
  • Objective Analysis : To solve the dilemmas, one should always act objectively based on rational thinking & facts and figures.
  • Society above Personal Interest : In solving these dilemmas , one should place society and nation above personal interests
  • Follow Code of Conduct : Always follow Code of Conduct in such cases because main aim of giving exhaustive Code of Conduct are to resolve these situations in best way
  • Use Gandhi’s Talisman
  • Choose the higher value among competing values : In case dilemma involves competing values, choose the higher value . Eg Openness is higher value from secrecy (unless Security and Integrity of nation is at stake)
  • Use Conscience : But conscience is not always correct and often leads us in wrong ways.

Acts Of Double Effect | Ethical Concerns and Dilemmas in Government and Private Institutions

  • Some actions have two effects—good and bad. How does someone decide the morality of such actions? Ethicists provide a few general principles to help decide the morality of acts of double effect. They are:
    • The action that produces the two effects must be either good or indifferent— that is, not intrinsically wrong.
    • The good effect must be immediate—that is, not obtained through the evil effect.
  • The intention or purpose must be good.
  • There must be a proportionately good reason or cause for performing the action in the first place.




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