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Ethical Dilemma

Ethical Dilemma

What is an Ethical Dilemma?

  • An Ethical Dilemma is a situation in which a person has to make a difficult choice from amongst two courses of action, each of which means compromising a moral principle.
  • Eg. a soldier confronted by an unarmed enemy is being ordered by his senior to shoot and kill. Should he kill an unarmed person? or Should he follow his sense of duty?

The Three conditions:

  • There should be three conditions for a situation to qualify for being an Ethical Dilemma.
  • First, the individual or the “agent” is bound to take a decision out of different courses of actions available for the problem.
  • Second, there must be two or more courses of action to choose from.
  • Third, no matter which course is chosen, there is a compromise of atleast one moral principle. SO, there is no perfect solution to the problem.
  • Often, people confuse difficult situations with Ethical Dilemmas. However, difficult situations do not mean Ethical Dilemmas.

Ethics, Morals, Values, Law: What is most important?

  • Ethics and morals are inseparable since they both deal with questions of right and wrong.
  • What constitutes ethical behavior is determined by societal or cultural norms while what constitutes moral behavior is up to the individual to decide based on his own sense of right and wrong.
  • Ethics can be Universal or Professional or Societal. They essential involve decision making process- decisions on what is right and what is wrong. So they have cognitive element associated with them.
  • Morals are more personal. They include a person’s choice of code of set behaviours that help him decide about right and wrong.
  • Values are the ideas that a person cherishes and holds dear. E.g. Unity, brotherhood, cleanliness etc.
  • Laws and Rules are determined by the state. Generally, laws are considered to be above professional ethics, morals and values of a person.
  • You must understand the difference between an “approximate dilemma” and a “pure dilemma”.
  • A situation involving dilemma between Ethics and Values is not really an Ethical Dilemma. It is a case of “approximate dilemma”. One has to give more importance to the Ethics of his/her profession.
  • g. a terrorist has killed many people. Now the police have arrested him. But he is under a critical condition and is hospitalized. The doctor who is treating this terrorist hates the deeds done by him (his personal values). But he should treat the patient following his professional ethics (Medical ethics). Now this is an example of “approximate dilemma”.
  • Now take another example. A woman comes to know about a serious congenital disease about the baby in her womb. Now she doesn’t want to continue her pregnancy. Is it ethical on her part to abort the child? The baby born out of this pregnancy will not lead a healthy life and will not be an independent child. Second thought is that the lady should let the nature take its own course and let the child take birth, as humans have no right to take away the life of a person. This is a case of “Pure Dilemma”.
  • So, while attempting to resolve a ethical dilemma, one should be able to distinguish between personal and professional dimensions; and identify the ethical, moral, legal, and values considerations in the situation.



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