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Ethics Across Fields Essay, Research Paper


Thesis Statement: Ethics, as applied in commerce, are shaped by scientific and technological advances.

I. Why Bother With Ethics?

A. Components of business social performance

B. The need for an established set of values

II. Profiting From Ethical Behavior

A. Making business possible

B. What does ethical look like?

C. Who s responsible for workplace ethics?

III. Defining Ethics – Not a Case of Black and White

A. Who decides?

IV. Technology and Ethics

A. New playing fields for ethical considerations

a. medicine

b. nuclear industry

c. cyber dilemmas

B. Ethics specialization

V. From Medical to Biomedical Ethics

A. Beyond Hypocrites

B. Karen Quinlan

C. Buying health

VI. The Environmental Expansion of Ethics

A. Without precedence

B. Anthropocentric VS bio-centric approaches

VII. Computer Ethics for Professional and Public Organizations

A. History

B. Expectations

C. The Internet and it s ramifications

VIII. Responsibility Extends Beyond Specialized Domains

A. Conclusion

Ethics Across Fields

The purpose of this paper is to determine the consistency of the moral and ethical value systems that guide the practices of organizations that make up the economic fabric of the nation. As scientific advancements and new technologies become readily accessible society experiences the consequences as well as the benefits. Are the decisions of individuals charged with fiscal soundness ethically neutral? What is the impact to society if ethical considerations fail to keep pace with rapid scientific and technological growth? Ultimately, who is responsible?

Why Bother With Ethics?

Because the society we live in is fundamentally based upon performance and profit, it is necessary to impart a sense of corporate social responsibility in regard to modern commerce. Purpose, principle and consequence are the vehicles of ethics in business. They are fundamental components of any organization s social performance. Utilizing these components involves incorporating the interests of ethics and morality into the corporate structure. These are essential concepts that may be absent from a managerial standpoint. Corporate social responsibility should exist within every company’s infrastructure.(1) However, social integrity is not necessarily something that is at the forefront of modern day business dealings. Ethics, business and society must work together or there is no purpose for any of its existence. Unethical practices are what create a climate of contempt and distrust, leading to consumers who harbor animosity. This is no way to run a business.

Ethics are a necessary and critical ingredient in any successful enterprise. Establishing such ethical fortitude is not difficult if a moral and conscientious outlook is maintained. Ethical concerns run rampant among various entities, posing questions along the way as to whether a particular practice is considered morally acceptable. Ethics sometimes get in the way of resolving questions like: What is the ethical concern? Am I being true to myself? Why is this bothering me?

Is it my problem? What do others think? Who else matters? (2)

Establishing reasonable ethical guidelines and their ensuing

corporate social responsibility must come from a management perspective, which is the primary location where policy is derived. Ethical perspectives include purpose, principle and consequence, and myriad ethical considerations in the daily world of business. Each concern presents yet another moral dilemma: Should the decision be made for company or personal gain? What if the company benefits at the expense of society? How many will reap the benefit of individualized attention at the expense of all others? Is there a time when an individual’s interests supercede those of the masses? These are ethical questions posed each and everyday throughout the global business and social worlds. Whether or not the right answers are acted upon is another matter entirely.

Ethical problems of personal and public decision making are not new. The need to undertake ethical reflection is a central part of what it means to be human. (3) Ethical decision-making goes hand in hand with sound business judgment, yet this is not a concept always followed. The very purpose behind ethical behavior has some people stumped as to its true intention. While some believe it s the cornerstone in the foundation of good business, others contend that it brings out nothing more than “an absolutist, rigid set of constraints that violate one’s sense of independent judgment.” (4)

Profiting From Ethical Behavior

In truth, ethics represent moral perspective that, while having a universal theme, is still open to interpretation. In spite of the fact that each person reserves his or her own value system with respect to ethical behavior there still remains a significant void between what some consider to be morally acceptable and what others believe to be wrong. All people have built-in ethical responses. Certain actions are identified as wrong, others as morally praiseworthy. The values of honesty, promise- keeping, truth-telling, benevolence and justice, endure because they are essential to the social fabric of human existence. Without certain fundamental principles of fair dealing and mutual respect, business would be impossible. (5)

Establishing and maintaining corporate ethics is indeed center to

continued success, on both a personal and professional level. Constant nurturing of moral judgment and a specific code of ethics is in order as a means of upholding the positive image necessary to perpetuate corporate policy. The primary elements of such nurturing include having a clear and concise sense of honesty that is validated by society; appropriate and applicable conventions when confronted with difficult situations; managerial involvement in and awareness of ethical issues; a supportive ethics program that is wholeheartedly supported by top management; and staff involvement. (6)

Defining Ethics – Not a Case of Black and White

These concepts represent a complete quest toward ethical decision-making. No one element can create or sustain ethical management and weakness in one element could undermine the whole effort. It can be easily argued that diversity is truly key to corporate social responsibility. However, not all businesses are managed in such a manner. (7)

With the ever-changing workforce, it is imperative that companies open themselves up to reorganization that previously had not existed. Such modifications include the continued application of ethical and moral decision-making processes. These changes are not only representative of on-going change they are also indicative of a more compassionate view towards all components of the business world. Distinguishing these moral and ethical actions requires that a determination if the actions are right or wrong is based solely upon existing social norms. So then what denotes right and wrong?

Unlike other social circles where ethical behavior is dependent upon the social customs imbedded in actions, there exists no clear path of morality to follow when it comes to the corporate world. (8) Ignoring such a path would reap severe consequences upon the business that saw itself as beyond the established ethical norm. The moral argument that helps managers choose among competing duties based upon the best consequences inevitably obliges managers to do what they see as best. Vision, however, is obscured by discussions about stock price movements, instrumental ethics, and shareholder wealth easily obscures the true moral argument. (9)

Determining what constitutes morals or values is the fundamental purpose of corporate social responsibility. Given the fact that all of humanity must coexist on the same planet, there has to be a modicum of consideration with regard to business values. If not, there would be no sense of tolerance or respect for individual life. People have to abide by an ethical code to ensure proper behavior among the world s population. Yet, who is to determine what this corporate ethical code will represent, and who is to say that all commerce must follow it? Clearly, defining ethics is to define man s values and interests. This is a concept that must exist within the framework of all business infrastructures.

Technology and Ethics

Business today involves areas of profitability that didn t exist as little as twenty years ago. Technologies appear in society increasing in kind and speed. These new methods and sciences are accompanied by assumptions about their inherent benefit to mankind. But shortly after they appear questions often arise due to unintended and unforeseen consequences or unclear implications for established moral values.

For example, the following three instances of technology created social problems. Each involves issues that cannot be resolved based simply on the scientific or technical value, but demand reflection on moral principles. Consider:

1. There are not enough organ donations for everyone who needs a liver transplant. How should a physician decide who gets a new liver and who does not and dies

as a result? Should it always be the Mickey Mantles of the world who get priority treatment? (10)

2. Nuclear waste is accumulating at temporary storage facilities all across the United States. But every proposal for the construction of a permanent storage facility is challenged by special interest groups, such as environmentalists, as favoring another interest group, such as the nuclear power industry. How are these conflicts to be resolved? (11)

3. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” What is the meaning of this right in a world where papers and effects, not to mention persons and places, are increasingly transformed into digitalized information in cyberspace? (12)

Ethical problems of personal and public decision making are not new. The need to undertake ethical reflection is part-indeed a central part-of what it means to be human. But as these three cases indicate, ethical decision making is increasingly engaged with advances in modern technology.

Even if technology does not create radically new ethical problems, as some argue, it surely constitutes a new and important domain for old-fashioned moral struggles to resist temptation and to do the good. The importance of such struggles can hardly be overemphasized, since technological change not only sets up hard problems for ethical reflection, but ethical decisions also influence how we use and live with our technologies. The problems of ethical techno-decision making are compounded by the emergence of two areas of expertise. One area is that of the technical experts who create and manage our medical, energy, and information technologies. Another area is that of those on ethics committees at hospitals, in regulatory agencies, and with professional organizations who articulate and reflect on the issues involved in these various areas of techno-ethical concern.

The last two decades have witnessed the development of a number of specialized fields of reflection on ethics and technology. Among these are biomedical ethics, environmental ethics, and computer ethics. In each case, however, discussions have remained largely restricted to professionals in these different fields of applied ethics. What scientist and novelist C. P. Snow called the “two cultures” gap between literary and scientific intellectuals is related to what had been identified earlier in the century as the “cultural lag” between science and society. (13) This is demonstrated today in the break between technical experts and applied ethicists.

Although one aim of the academic study of ethics and technology has been to bridge this dual culture divide, applied ethics experts sometimes create a new version of the very difference they would overcome. The real promise of applied ethics will be realized only when the conclusions of that reflection transforms technical decision making and enters the public realm.

Science and technology have major influences on everyday life, so much so that they often seem to dominate every waking moment. There is constant encouragement to invest in the most advanced science, and to adopt the most efficient technology, in order to be economically competitive – even though economic competitiveness is not the highest value? Americans experience difficulties controlling the use of various technologies on a daily basis – from limiting the TV viewing of children to attempts at halting the hurried pace of high-tech communication. Although an ethical analysis of technological decision making has begun to emerge among specialized experts, it must be expanded to include all citizens in a high-science, high-technology society. (14)

Experts alone, whether scientists and engineers or philosophers, cannot solve society s problems. Efforts must be made to open and involve the emerging specialized fields of techno-ethical analysis with a wider public.

From Medical to Biomedical Ethics

One reasonable way to begin is with a review of some recent developments in biomedical, environmental, and computer ethics and relating them to the real-world problems facing society. From its earliest history, medicine was associated with the acceptance of special moral obligations by those who attempted to assist nature in promoting health and overcoming illness. Because physicians brought specialized knowledge or expertise to bear on vulnerable patients, the Hippocratic tradition of medical ethics emphasized their responsibilities not just to avoid harm and to do good but also not to disclose confidences or to take sexual advantage. At the same time there was always an implicit responsibility on the part of patients to trust in or to do as their physicians recommended. The expert knowledge or skill of the physician and the ignorance or need of a patient was mediated by the ethics of medical authority on the one side and by traditional patient docility on the other. (15)

In the last hundred years, and especially since the 1960s, infusions of the advancing knowledge and power of biology and the life sciences have transformed medicine. Increasingly, the adequacy of the Hippocratic tradition of medical ethics is called into question . Physicians are no longer concerned only with treatments that help patients to recover a natural state of health. Instead, expanding abilities allow doctors to preserve physical life disconnected from psychological and spiritual experience, and to alter human experience by artificial instrumentations. Such practices raise fundamental questions about the end of medicine. Is it a proper aim of medicine to preserve the “life” of comatose patients who, prior to the development of artificial respirators, would experience a natural death? Is the only way to escape pain the technically assisted suicide of a Dr. Kevorkian? Should medical science and technology aspire to so chemically alter our immune systems as to make us receptive to organic, artificial, or trans-species organ implantations? And on what basis are scarce medical resources such as donated organs to be allocated – especially when such decisions effectively determine who lives and who dies?

The Karen Quinlan case of 1975 was among the first to bring such issues to public attention. In a persistent vegetative state after an accident, Karen was kept “alive” by means of an artificial respirator and a feeding tube, in opposition to her parents’ request (based on counsel from their Catholic priest) that she be allowed to die. The parents were forced to go to court to secure a right to have the artificial respirator disconnected, that is, a right to refuse medical treatment. This is an instance of action in the best interest of despite the prevailing ethics of physician expertise and professional practice. The New Jersey Supreme Court decided that not just physicians, but also patients and their guardians, should participate in informed decision making about medical care, something that had not previously been included in the medical ethics tradition.

Professional ethics and patient docility had combined with powerful new medical technologies to dehumanize treatment in ways that could be redressed only by limiting physician autonomy and encouraging informed decision making by patients. Although ethics specialists have argued over patient-rights for two decades, the situation hasn t changed materially, as evidenced by a Journal of the American Medical Association report in November 1995. The article recounted the four-year effort “to improve end-of-life decision making and reduce the frequency of a mechanically supported, painful, and prolonged process of dying.”(16) Over and over again, in almost ten thousand cases, patients failed to be actively involved in decision making about their terminal care, resulting in an extended period of pain and prolonged high-tech death. For the physicians who did the study, it “casts a pall” over claims that the experts can reform themselves.

Reflection on such cases in techno-scientific medicine have transformed medical ethics into what is now called bioethics or biomedical ethics. With biomedical ethics there is an attempt to draw upon and educate physicians about the broader principles of ethics beyond those traditionally found in medical ethics. Doctors must adapt and apply these principles to the unique situations created by high-tech medicine. One general issue in biomedical ethics, for instance, is the problem of dehumanizing patient care. Hospitals no longer promote contact with the curative powers of nature (as was the case, for instance, with traditional sanatoriums). Patients are diagnosed by means of techniques that increasingly diminish direct physician-patient contact. Hands-off diagnostic means are found from the thermometer and stethoscope to X-ray machines, electromagnetic resonance tomography, and expert computer diagnostic systems. Patients are treated with injection, drug, radiation, and surgical therapies as abstract and impersonal in their own way as the electricity or statistics upon which those treatments depend.

Issues go beyond the treatment of individual patients, especially when public expenditures are involved. How much public investment should be made in medical research, as opposed to preventive public- health measures? What kinds of medical research should be funded? Public debates about the relative governmental support for AIDS versus breast cancer research, for instance, have pointed out that although many fewer people die from AIDS than breast cancer, it is AIDS that has until recently been accorded a much higher funding priority. Is the problem one of better lobbying by a homosexual minority or a failure of women to speak out on issues that affect them? Indeed, recent disclosures about tamoxifen trials that, in the name of breast cancer research, subjected thousands of women to greater risk than breast cancer itself led Dr. Charles Weijer, a fellow in research ethics at the Medical Research Council of Canada, to argue for a much wider, democratic involvement of potential victims in cancer research. “To negotiate the many agonizing choices ahead: treatment or prevention? Aggressive treatment or minimal treatment? Quantity of life or quality of life? Investigators need the input of the entire community affected by cancer.” (17) Physicians should not be left on their own to make such decisions, and patients should not simply accept physician recommendations.

The case of the liver transplant for Mickey Mantle highlights another aspect of this public-policy debate. Transplantable organs are in short supply. Mantle needed a liver transplant because of his years of drinking, and he was able to get it quickly because he was rich and famous. According to Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, “Spending $300,000 for a liver transplant for somebody who brought harm upon himself is not a prudent use of scarce money and scarce livers.” Nevertheless, this issue cannot be left to individual physicians or individual patients to decide. In Caplan’s words, “If society wants to pass laws saying no transplants for alcoholics, no transplants for felons or for smokers or for people who drive too fast, then it should.” But society “should not dump the issue of what to do about sin on those who work at the bedside; they’re not equipped to make judgments and it violates their professional ethics.”(18) Clearly it is not just physicians who should pass such laws; it is the general public that should legislate, since it is the public that will be affected. Yet a democratic public must itself become informed by the reflective contribution of biomedical ethics if it is to avoid unintelligent or morally pernicious regulations.

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