Ethical Problems

School of Athens by Raphael

Course Description

E12  Ethical Problems, 3 CE hours, $21

Description: Ethics deals with right and wrong and reflects one’s morals. Look at ethics from the following perspective: Laws and rules were made to limit very bad behavior and to highlight good behavior.

Objectives: At the end of this course, you will  1. Know the definitions and major concepts of ethics, 2. Understand the ethical approach to decision making, and  3. Make a choice of ethical standards that make sense to you.

WHO BENEFITS from this course? People who want to understand ethics and to help others to do so. Nurses (RNs, LVNs), counselors (MFCCs), and social workers (LCSWs) seeking California state-approved continuing education (CEP 11430 and PCE 39). Employees looking for training. Educators, managers & others wanting to learn. College students who are taking this as one of the modules of their ethics course. THE CEU CERTIFICATE or the College Credit IS WORTH THE FEE.  See the Ethics Glossary

 Course Exam

TEST: Study this website for 3 hours for an approved (RN-CEP 16144) 3-hours Continuing Education Certificate (0.3 CEUs).  Click here for the self-correcting test

Ethical Problems Introduction

To deal with ethical dilemmas, you need to find the answers to these questions:

1. What is Ethics? 1.1 Definitions
1.2 Divisions
2. What did the Ancients say?  2.1 Greeks
2.2 Christians
3. What did the Moderns say? 3.1 Moralists
3.2 Humanists
4. What do the Codes say? 4.1 Codes of Ethics
4.2 Ethical Choices
 5.  How do you reason Ethically?



E2.1. How can you use ethics in everyday life? Give examples.
E2.2.  Which of the Codes of Ethics is most relevant to your life and why?
E2.3. How would you reason through one of the below ethical cases?  


Do journalists write nothing but the truth? In the July 6, 1998, edition of  U.S. News and World Report, page 20, John Leo states that “the rewards for cutting corners are just too great….Many reporters accept the current fashionable postmodern theory that objective knowledge of any sort is a myth.” Rudolf Klimes bases his ethical reasoning on facts, that is objective knowledge, that interplay with given values. Without objective knowledge or facts, there is no reference point and everything is just opinion.


1. What is Ethics?

What is a good definition of ethics that is helpful to you? Check the definitions of ethics and come up with a statement that best describes what ethics is. Also, examine the terms morals and values.


Ethics deals with right and wrong and reflects one’s morals. Look at ethics from the following perspective: Laws and rules were made to limit very bad behavior and to highlight good behavior. Bad behavior is further limited by your personal ethics, which tells you what is bad and what is good. Thus some actions may be lawful, but still unethical. Unlawful actions are in the black area, good ones in the white area, and all in-between in the gray area. Ethics deals mainly with this gray area between the clearly bad and the good.

Ethical problems become dilemmas when there at least two good choices. The choice then becomes between good and good, not between good and bad.

Environmental ethics is the ethics of ecology.

Ethical egoism deals with the ethics of self-interest.

Hedonism is the philosophy of pleasure.

Nihilism is a belief that nothing really matters.


School of Athens by Raphael

2. What did the Ancients say?

2.1 What did the Greeks write about ethics? Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates.

ERIC_NO: ED325871, A Circular Evolution of Perspectives regarding Ethical Communication? by Cox, E. Sam, 1990

ABSTRACT: The contemporary view of ethical communication has come full circle, returning to the approach of Aristotle. Almost every public speaking textbook includes discussion of the basic concepts of what Aristotle called ethos, pathos, and logos. Of particular significance is Aristotle’s conception of ethos, as elaborated in his work, “The Rhetoric.” Ethos was understood by Aristotle as being composed of sincerity/trustworthiness, expertise/knowledge, identification/empathy, and charisma/power. Aristotle’s notion of “prohairesis,” translated by Charles Chamberlain as “commitment,” is important to the analysis of what constitutes an ethical advocate. Many modern theorists agree with Aristotle that the fundamental basis of any communication ethic must be the advocate’s ongoing commitment to messages whose outcome the person can affect. Like Aristotle, many of today’s scholars believe that an individual’s ethical system, at its highest level of development, is based upon internalized convictions rather than external consequences.

The ancient Greeks were known to use ethical reasoning in solving ethical problems.

The Greeks laid the foundation for ethical thinking. They leaned somewhat to “RuleRight.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

2.2 What did Moses and Christ write about ethical living?

ERIC_NO: ED260988, Christian Ethics. A Teacher Information Bulletin for Division IV, 1984

ABSTRACT: The course is designed to help students articulate, reflect upon, and understand what they believe and practice. Cited in this resource manual are textbooks, teacher’s guides, supplementary materials, reference materials, and audio-visual resources. The materials are organized under the headings of the themes found in the curriculum guide: (1) God and Man (Searching for God, Religions of the World, Faith and Atheism, and Life beyond Death); (2) The Christ in Scripture (Jesus of the Gospels; The Parables of Christ; The Beatitudes; God’s People in the Old Testament; and Understanding the Bible); (3) The Contemporary Christian Community (The Church, Christian Worship and Sacraments, Prayer in Contemporary Spirituality, and Everyday Ecumenism); (4) The Christian (Christian Morality and Conscience, Moral Problems of Today, Marriage, and Social Justice).

Christian ethics uses a number of central themes, among them the concept of forgiveness.


This approach to ethics will be called “CareRight” in this course. It is generally an objective approach.

Immanual Kant

3. What did the Moderns say?

3.1 What is one modern approach to ethics?

KANT and the Moral Law: Ethical Theory 


This approach to ethics will be called “RuleRight” in this course. It is generally an objective approach.

3.2 What is one of the most influential ethical approaches today?

MILL and

Utilitarianism emphasizes, among others, the consequences of actions.


This approach to ethics will be called “EndRight” in this course. It is the relativistic or pragmatic approach in the post-modern area.   

3.2 You may be controlled mainly by your emotions, principles, or mission. Find your perspective on an ethical life.


4. What do the Codes say?

4.1 What are some Codes of Ethics that are used today? 

Global Values, Moral Boundaries

4.11 The West Point Honor Code: “A cadet does not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerates those who do.”

4.12 The Rotary 4-way test:  “Is is Truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better understanding? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

The Four Way Test

4.13 The Boy Scout Law: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent.”

4.14 The Ten Commandments summarized:  Don’t worship false gods, don’t worship images, don’t take God’s name in vain, don’t break the Sabbath, honor your parents, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t envy.

4.15 The Institute of Global Ethics Values List: “Love, truth, fairness, freedom, unity, tolerance, responsibility. respect for life.”

4.16 LearnWell Ethical Imperatives: (see explanation in the Ethical Choices Module)


Help Honesty
Fairness Freedom


4.2 How would you deal with some Ethical Problems?

  1. Which codes give you most life guidance in general situations?
  2. Suppose you find out that someone you know trains his big dog by whipping it severely. Would you
    1. think that that is none of your business?
    2. Report the owner?
    3. try to convince the man to treat his dog humanely?
    4. think that whipping is sometimes needed?
  3. A friend tells you, in strictest confidence, that he has been molested by one of his parents. Would you
    1. honor the confidence and not tell anyone?
    2. tell someone who could help?
    3. suggest that he tell the other parent?
    4. help your friend overcome the trauma?

ERIC_NO: EJ516000, Perceptions of Ethical Problems among Senior Educational Leaders. By Walker, Keith D., 1995

ABSTRACT: Surveys ethical problems characterizing senior educational executives’ moral wrestlings. Describes ethical misdeeds as transgressions against administrators’ core ethical values (caring/respect, fairness, professional conduct, resource stewardship, integrity, loyalty, honesty, and stewardship). Delineates ethical quandaries as “grey area” problems confronting administrators in particular situations.

ERIC_NO: ED365914, Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers, 1994

ABSTRACT: This document presents the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), originally adopted in 1979 and revised in 1990 and again in 1993. The preamble notes that the code is intended to serve as a guide to the everyday conduct of members of the social work profession and as a basis for the adjudication of issues in ethics when the conduct of social workers is alleged to deviate from the standards expressed or implied in the code. Major principles of the code are summarized, and then the code is presented in its entirety. Section I, The Social Worker’s Conduct and Comportment as a Social Worker, considers propriety, competence and professional development, service, integrity, and scholarship and research. Section II, The Social Worker’s Ethical Responsibility to Clients, focuses on the primacy of clients’ interests, rights and prerogatives of clients, confidentiality and privacy, and fees. Section III, The Social Worker’s Ethical Responsibility to Colleagues, considers respect, fairness, and courtesy; and dealing with colleagues’ clients. Section IV, The Social Worker’s Ethical Responsibility to Employers and Employing Organizations, explains commitments to employing organizations. Section V, The Social Worker’s Ethical Responsibility to the Social Work Profession, considers maintaining the integrity of the profession, community service, and development of knowledge. The final section, The Social Worker’s Ethical Responsibility to Society, focuses on promoting the general welfare.

ERIC_NO: ED340033, Journalistic Codes of Ethics in the CSCE Countries: An Examination. Series B 31/1991, by Juusela, Pauli, 1991

ABSTRACT: A study examined the journalistic codes of ethics from 23 countries involved in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), using descriptive and interpretative content analysis. The contents of the 24 codes from the 23 countries were divided into explicit categories on the basis of a 17-part classification scheme, including: “truth,” “acquisition of facts,” “professional secrecy,” “freedom of information,” “professional integrity,” “human rights,” and “values.” Results indicated that: (1) the most important principle in all the codes was represented by truth; (2) the general rule on acquisition and checking of facts was that journalists should use open and honest means to acquire information; (3) confidentiality of sources must be maintained; and (4) freedom of information figures prominently in nearly all of the codes. Findings suggest the development among the CSCE countries of some sort of basic, universal model of journalistic codes where the accent is on truth, freedom of information, and protection of the individual.

4.3 Do an Ethics Update with current news, information and research.

Ethics Updates Home Page

4.4 Principles of Ethical Conduct for Government Officers and Employees

The following Principles of Ethical Conduct are an excerpt from Executive Order 12674 of April 12, 1989, as modified by Executive Order 12731. These Principles apply to all employees of the Federal Government.

Part I-Principles of Ethical Conduct

Section 101. Principles of Ethical Conduct. To ensure that every citizen can have complete confidence in the integrity of the Federal Government, each Federal employee shall respect and adhere to the fundamental principles of ethical service as implemented in regulations promulgated under sections 201 and 301 of this order:

  1. Public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principles above private gain.
  2. Employees shall not hold financial interests that conflict with the conscientious performance of duty.
  3. Employees shall not engage in financial transactions using nonpublic Government information or allow the improper use of such information to further any private interest.
  4. An employee shall not, except pursuant to such reasonable exceptions as are provided by regulation, solicit or accept any gift or other item of monetary value from any person or entity seeking official action from, doing business with, or conducting activities regulated by the employee’s agency, or whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee’s duties.
  5. Employees shall put forth honest effort in the performance of their duties.
  6. Employees shall make no unauthorized commitments or promises of any kind purporting to bind the Government.
  7. Employees shall not use public office for private gain.
  8. Employees shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual.
  9. Employees shall protect and conserve Federal property and shall not use it for other than authorized activities.
  10. Employees shall not engage in outside employment or activities, including seeking or negotiating for employment, that conflict with official Government duties and responsibilities.
  11. Employees shall disclose waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption to appropriate authorities.
  12. Employees shall satisfy in good faith their obligations as citizens, including all just financial obligations, especially those such as Federal, State, or local taxes that are imposed by law.
  13. Employees shall adhere to all laws and regulations that provide equal opportunity for all Americans regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap.
  14. Employees shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating the law or the ethical standards promulgated pursuant to this order.


5.  How do you reason Ethically?

5.1 Cloning to Produce Children

Excerpted from Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry, The President’s Council on Bioethics, 2002.

The Ethics of Cloning-to-Produce-Children

Two separate national-level reports on human cloning (NBAC, 1997; NAS, 2002) concluded that attempts to clone a human being would be unethical at this time due to safety concerns and the likelihood of harm to those involved. The Council concurs in this conclusion. But we have extended the work of these distinguished bodies by undertaking a broad ethical examination of the merits of, and difficulties with, cloning-to-produce-children.

Cloning-to-produce-children might serve several purposes. It might allow infertile couples or others to have genetically-related children; permit couples at risk of conceiving a child with a genetic disease to avoid having an afflicted child; allow the bearing of a child who could become an ideal transplant donor for a particular patient in need; enable a parent to keep a living connection with a dead or dying child or spouse; or enable individuals or society to try to “replicate” individuals of great talent or beauty. These purposes have been defended by appeals to the goods of freedom, existence (as opposed to nonexistence), and well-being – all vitally important ideals.

A major weakness in these arguments supporting cloning-to-produce-children is that they overemphasize the freedom, desires, and control of parents, and pay insufficient attention to the well-being of the cloned child-to-be. The Council holds that, once the child-to-be is carefully considered, these arguments are not sufficient to overcome the powerful case against engaging in cloning-to-produce-children.

First, cloning-to-produce-children would violate the principles of the ethics of human research. Given the high rates of morbidity and mortality in the cloning of other mammals, we believe that cloning-to-produce-children would be extremely unsafe, and that attempts to produce a cloned child would be highly unethical. Indeed, our moral analysis of this matter leads us to conclude that this is not, as is sometimes implied, a merely temporary objection, easily removed by the improvement of technique. We offer reasons for believing that the safety risks might be enduring, and offer arguments in support of a strong conclusion: that conducting experiments in an effort to make cloning-to-produce-children less dangerous would itself be an unacceptable violation of the norms of research ethics. There seems to be no ethical way to try to discover whether cloning-to-produce-children can become safe, now or in the future.

If carefully considered, the concerns about safety also begin to reveal the ethical principles that should guide a broader assessment of cloning-to-produce-children: the principles of freedom, equality, and human dignity. To appreciate the broader human significance of cloning-to-produce-children, one needs first to reflect on the meaning of having children; the meaning of asexual, as opposed to sexual, reproduction; the importance of origins and genetic endowment for identity and sense of self; the meaning of exercising greater human control over the processes and “products” of human reproduction; and the difference between begetting and making. Reflecting on these topics, the Council has identified five categories of concern regarding cloning-to-produce-children. (Different Council Members give varying moral weight to these different concerns.)

  • Problems of identity and individuality. Cloned children may experience serious problems of identity both because each will be genetically virtually identical to a human being who has already lived and because the expectations for their lives may be shadowed by constant comparisons to the life of the “original.”
  • Concerns regarding manufacture. Cloned children would be the first human beings whose entire genetic makeup is selected in advance. They might come to be considered more like products of a designed manufacturing process than “gifts” whom their parents are prepared to accept as they are. Such an attitude toward children could also contribute to increased commercialization and industrialization of human procreation.
  • The prospect of a new eugenics. Cloning, if successful, might serve the ends of privately pursued eugenic enhancement, either by avoiding the genetic defects that may arise when human reproduction is left to chance, or by preserving and perpetuating outstanding genetic traits, including the possibility, someday in the future, of using cloning to perpetuate genetically engineered enhancements.
  • Troubled family relations. By confounding and transgressing the natural boundaries between generations, cloning could strain the social ties between them. Fathers could become “twin brothers” to their “sons”; mothers could give birth to their genetic twins; and grandparents would also be the “genetic parents” of their grandchildren. Genetic relation to only one parent might produce special difficulties for family life.
  • Effects on society. Cloning-to-produce-children would affect not only the direct participants but also the entire society that allows or supports this activity. Even if practiced on a small scale, it could affect the way society looks at children and set a precedent for future nontherapeutic interventions into the human genetic endowment or novel forms of control by one generation over the next. In the absence of wisdom regarding these matters, prudence dictates caution and restraint.

Conclusion: For some or all of these reasons, the Council is in full agreement that cloning-to-produce-children is not only unsafe but also morally unacceptable, and ought not to be attempted.  

5.2  Moral reasoning among medical geneticists in eighteen nations

Wertz DC, Fletcher JC.

We surveyed the approaches of 661 geneticists in 18 nations to 14 clinical cases and asked them to give their ethical reasons for choosing these approaches. Patient autonomy was the dominant value in clinical decision-making, with 59% of responses, followed by non-maleficence (20%), beneficence (11%) and justice (5%). In all, 39% described the consequences of their actions, 26% mentioned conflicts of interest between different parties and 72% placed patient welfare above the welfare of others. The U.S., Canada, Sweden, and U.K. led in responses favoring autonomy. There were substantial international differences in moral reasoning. Gender differences in responses reflected women’s greater attention to relationships and supported feminist ethical theories.

PMID: 2781504 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Ethics Library

Explore your concerns in ethics at three of the following sites:

CDC  Ethics Training


 Study this website for 3 hours for an approved (RN-CEP 16144) 3-hours Continuing Education Certificate (0.3 CEUs).
Click here for the self-correcting test

Leave a Reply