Ethic Case Descriptions

        Return to Dr. Edelbach's SET Home Page                      Revised - 20 October, 2013 11:18 AM

Ethics Case Assignment Information

                             Ethics Cases to be Analyzed

In each case below, facts about a current technological issue and some related ethical aspects are described. Not all relevant information has been included so if you feel that additional details relating to the case are required after consulting some references, send me your questions/comments about the case via e-mail and I will respond promptly.

Your assignment is to develop THREE VIABLE solutions to each case, consider the potential implications of each option, weigh the associated ethical factors, and explain why you selected one option as most appropriate. Be certain to consider, to the extent possible, the possible ramifications of your views and the ultimate decision you make on the various stakeholders

It is essential that you clearly identify the key question to be answered in your case PRIOR to beginning to research the topic and develop the three viable options. Play the role as described in each case and imagine what you would do if you were faced with that situation.

You are to review all the information related to this assignment and follow the directions found at 

Each person will complete this assignment INDEPENDENTLY, consulting at least five (5) current references related to their particular case. The SET text should be consulted although the 5 required references should be in addition to the course text. Include references in a bibliography in the final paper. 

Some parts of this assignment are to be submitted prior to the date when the final paper is due. Those dates are specified and all work is to be submitted on time. See "Ethics Due Dates" web page for due details.

The final paper is to be submitted as a MSWord file sent to me as an e-mail attachment.

Case 1 - Embryonic Stem Cell Research

There has been considerable discussion and debate about both the use of embryonic stem cells (ESC) for research and whether the federal government should provide funding for such research. Proponents of the use of ESC point out that there is the strong likelihood that such research might lead to major medical breakthroughs which could be beneficial to many individuals with major medical problems. Others believe that extracting ESC from human embryos is not permissible under any circumstances, based on their belief that human embryos are alive and should have the same rights and protections as a fully-developed human. Often questionable claims are cited to support a particular viewpoint and the casual viewer can easily be confused about the benefits or risks of the various technologies as well as the ethical considerations.

On Aug 9, 2001, President Bush decided to permit federal funding for research on a limited number of stem cell lines created from embryos prior to the date he made this announcement. No ESC obtained after his decision were to be used for federally funded ESC research. Since a large number of unwanted embryos resulting from assisted reproductive technological (ART) are either cryogenically stored or destroyed if they are not implanted, many ask why these unwanted embryos shouldn't be used for government-supported research thereby increasing the likelihood that medical breakthroughs will result? Since taking office, President Obama has made some changes to the policies established by his predecessor.

Although there current appear to be some new ways to which might make it possible to extract viable stem cells for research from sources other than embryos, none are currently seen by most leading scientists as having the same potential for curing major medical conditions as ESC. Recommending that some other method of producing stem cells that is not controversial is NOT a viable option for this assignment. 

If you were the leader of our country considering this issue, what facts would be important to you in weighing three viable options for deciding how to deal with the issue of federal funding for ESC research. What ethical principles would you consider and find most compelling in making your final decision? How might you feel about the issue if you or a loved-one could benefit from a treatment developed using ESC derived from human embryos? 

Case 2 - Genetically Engineered Crops

It is estimated that as many as 1000 people die from starvation each day throughout the world and many others suffer serious medical problems from malnutrition. There is scientific evidence that genetically engineered crops which have been developed could more easily and productively be grown in many areas of the world which currently do not produce sufficient food to feed their populations and thereby reduce world hunger. There are individuals and groups, however, who express concerns that these crops might not be entirely safe either for human or animal consumption or for our environment, and could pose an unacceptable health risk. 

Those who support the use of this relatively new technology point out that there is no comparable way to provide the food required to provide adequate food to many in the less-developed parts of the world unless these new types of crops are developed and put into production without serious negative financial impact on the developed world.

Those opposed to this solution point out that the wealthiest countries in the world presently consume the most food, energy and other natural resources and could well afford to provide more aid to those less fortunate without resorting to "unnatural" or "Frankenfood" products.

There are powerful forces supporting both sides of this issue and advocating their viewpoints through public relations campaigns aimed at the public and extensive lobbying focused on government officials. A decision pleasing one group will probably mean alienating other groups. 

If you were a high-level government official in a position to make the final decision of whether to approve full or partial reliance on genetically enhanced crops to help feed the world's poor, would factors would you consider before making that decision? What groups might you expect to either support or oppose your decision and how might they do that? What ethical principles would you feel were relevant and compelling in coming to a decision? How would you "sell" your decision to the majority of your constituents, the voters?

Case 3  - Loss of manufacturing jobs

Widgets, as everyone acknowledges, are very cute and cuddy but not something that is a necessity of life and required by everyone. They clearly fall into the "non-essential" category of goods. The inventory and only source for widgets is the XYZ Widget company, a privately-held corporation and a long-time American manufacturer. However, the company is no longer as efficient as it once was and it appears as if their profitability and viability could decline significantly in the near future if their business model some change to their business model is not made. There is a possibility that the reduced efficiency might eventually lead to bankruptcy for the company or cause it to suffer serious financial losses.

After an extensive analysis, a consulting firm has proposed to the CEO and Board of Directors that one option to consider is to shut down the older factory in the U.S. and shift the manufacturing operation to a  LDC (less developed country) which is interested in giving a boost to its own economy and obtaining work for many of its impoverished citizens. This would basically mean "out sourcing" or "off-shoring" the work presently being done in the older U.S. factory in order to lower labor costs by drastically reducing salaries, eliminating many benefits earned by current workers over years of service.

If a new factory is built in a LDC, it would also not be subject to U.S. laws and regulations, thereby reducing the expenses associated with meeting stringent U.S. environmental regulations. Collectively, these changes would reduce the company's expenses and increase its profitability, making it more attractive to investors.

It is also possible that such a change could also allow the company's products to be sold at a lower price while also increasing profits. Both of these are very attractive to management.

Most of the long-time employees in the current factory are older and starting to think about retirement at some point. Many have been with the company for many years and have been recognized and rewarded as loyal and dedicated workers. Management has readily acknowledged that because of their efforts, XYZ Widget has been a very successful multi-national corporation. As a result of their hard work, employees have been well-paid, had good health benefits and have built up sizeable retirement accounts. However, the workers were expecting to continue employment at the factory until they retired and the rumor of a plant closing has them very concerned.

The company has a reputation of treating its workers fairly and there has been an excellent working relationship between management and the union representing employees. The union has agreed to modifications of their contracts which reduced production costs for the company and workers feel that they have made adequate sacrifices and management must "share the pain" as well as production workers..

Before a decision is made, you, as the CEO, will want to consider all possible and viable options, including the recommendation made by the consulting firm. What ethical factors should you consider in reaching a decision? Who are the stakeholders who are likely to be impacted by your decision you make and how would explain to those who would be pleased by your decision as well as the who would be less-than happy how you reached that conclusion? What pressures are likely to be brought to bear on you prior to announcing your decision?