Exploring Ethical Decision-Making: Real-Life Examples and Models

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Life is filled with moral crossroads. We’ll explore intriguing real-life stories of individuals facing tough choices and how they navigated the ethical maze. Dive in for inspiration and insight into making principled decisions.

Exploring 12 Real-Life Ethical Decision-Making Examples

  1. Business Ethics: A company facing financial hardship decides whether to lay off employees or reduce executive bonuses.
  2. Medical Ethics: A doctor must choose between revealing a patient’s confidential information to prevent harm or respecting their privacy.
  3. Environmental Ethics: A government weighs the environmental impact of a proposed construction project against economic benefits.
  4. AI and Technology Ethics: Developers decide how much autonomy to grant to AI systems, which could have unintended consequences.
  5. Ethical Consumerism: A shopper chooses between products from companies with strong ethical practices or those with a history of ethical violations.
  6. Ethical Leadership: A manager decides whether to report unethical behavior within their organization, potentially jeopardizing their career.
  7. Animal Welfare: A farmer must choose humane practices for animal husbandry over profit maximization.
  8. Legal Ethics: A lawyer faces a conflict of interest in representing clients with opposing interests.
  9. Political Ethics: A politician decides between following party lines or voting based on their personal convictions and the will of their constituents.
  10. Ethical Dilemmas in Healthcare: A hospital allocates limited medical resources during a crisis, such as ventilators during a pandemic.
  11. Media Ethics: Journalists must balance the public’s right to know with respecting an individual’s right to privacy in reporting.
  12. Research Ethics: Scientists decide whether to conduct experiments on human subjects, balancing the potential benefits with the risks involved.


The Twelve Questions Model

One approach to ethical decision-making is the “Twelve Questions Model.” This model provides a structured framework for assessing the ethical implications of a decision. Let’s explore the twelve questions that can help us make more informed choices:

  1. What is the problem, and is it an ethical issue?
  2. Who are the stakeholders, and what are their interests?
  3. What are the relevant facts and circumstances?
  4. What are the values and principles involved?
  5. What are the options for action?
  6. What are the potential consequences of each option?
  7. Are there any relevant laws, regulations, or policies?
  8. What are the potential conflicts of interest?
  9. What are the practical constraints?
  10. What would a trusted advisor suggest?
  11. What is your gut feeling or intuition?
  12. Can the decision be justified and defended?

By addressing these questions, individuals can systematically analyze ethical dilemmas and make decisions that align with their values and ethical principles. This model provides a structured approach to ethical decision-making, ensuring that relevant considerations are thoroughly explored.

Learning Objective

The first question is often the most crucial: What is the objective of the decision? Identifying the purpose behind your choice can help you align it with your values and principles.

Do Today’s Youth Have a Code of Ethics?

As we grapple with the challenges of modern life, it’s essential to consider whether the younger generation possesses a strong code of ethics. Are they equipped to make ethical decisions in the face of complex dilemmas?

Josephson Institute of Ethics’ Model

Another valuable resource for ethical decision-making is the Josephson Institute of Ethics’ Model. This model emphasizes the importance of integrity, trustworthiness, and responsibility. It encourages individuals to consider their actions’ impact on others and society as a whole.

Steps to Ethical Decision Making

Department of Defense Decision-Making Framework

The Department of Defense’s decision-making framework is a comprehensive guide that emphasizes critical thinking and ethical reasoning. This framework can be especially useful when dealing with complex situations where the stakes are high.

Philosopher’s Approach

Taking a more philosophical approach to ethical decision-making involves examining various moral philosophies and principles. This method encourages individuals to contemplate the ethical implications of their actions in a broader context.


By exploring different ethical philosophies and principles, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of ethical decision-making and develop a more nuanced perspective.


Engaging in exercises that challenge your ethical reasoning can be a valuable way to improve your decision-making skills. These exercises may involve thought experiments, group discussions, or real-life scenarios.

Why Is Ethical Decision Important?

  • Maintaining Trust and Reputation: Ethical decisions are a foundation for building and maintaining trust, both in personal relationships and in professional settings. People tend to trust those who consistently make ethical choices. For businesses, maintaining a reputation for ethical behavior can lead to increased customer loyalty and trust.
  • Social Responsibility: Ethical decisions consider the broader impact of one’s actions on society. Making choices that are morally sound reflects a commitment to social responsibility, contributing to the betterment of the community, environment, and the world at large.
  • Legal Compliance: Ethical decisions often align with legal requirements. By making ethical choices, individuals and organizations are more likely to stay on the right side of the law, avoiding potential legal consequences and liabilities.
  • Crisis Management: Ethical decision-making is crucial during times of crisis. When facing challenging situations, individuals and organizations with a track record of ethical behavior are more likely to navigate crises effectively, mitigating damage and recovering more successfully.
  • Long-Term Success: Ethical decisions contribute to long-term success. Short-term gains achieved through unethical means can lead to long-term damage. Businesses that prioritize ethical behavior tend to enjoy sustained success and growth.
  • Employee Satisfaction and Productivity: In workplaces that uphold ethical standards, employees are more satisfied, engaged, and productive. Ethical employers create a positive work environment where employees feel valued and respected.
  • Stakeholder Relationships: Ethical decision-making enhances relationships with stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, investors, and the community. It fosters an environment of mutual trust, collaboration, and support.
  • Personal Integrity: On an individual level, ethical decisions are integral to personal integrity. Making choices that align with one’s values and principles enhances self-esteem and a sense of moral integrity.
  • Conflict Resolution: Ethical decision-making provides a framework for resolving conflicts. When individuals or organizations adhere to ethical principles, they can find common ground and reach resolutions that are fair and just.
  • Global Impact: In an interconnected world, ethical decisions can have a global impact. Choices related to environmental sustainability, human rights, and international relations can significantly affect the well-being of people worldwide.

6 Examples of Ethical Decisions – OpEx Managers

Now, let’s dive into some real-life examples of ethical decisions. These scenarios involve operational excellence (OpEx) managers facing difficult choices. Each example illustrates the importance of ethics in business and everyday life.

Not Divulging Company Secrets

Imagine you’re an OpEx manager at a tech company, and you stumble upon a confidential document containing your competitor’s trade secrets. The ethical dilemma here is whether to use this information to gain a competitive advantage or uphold your integrity by not divulging company secrets.

Deciding Between Two Negative Consequences

In the world of ethics, sometimes you’re faced with a no-win situation. An OpEx manager might have to decide between two negative consequences, such as layoffs or bankruptcy. Ethical decision-making involves choosing the lesser of two evils while considering the welfare of employees and stakeholders.

Remaining Neutral in a Conflict 

Conflicts often arise in the workplace. Ethical decisions may require an OpEx manager to remain neutral, avoiding taking sides in a dispute to ensure fairness and impartiality.

Choosing Not to Exploit a Customer’s Lack of Knowledge 

In the pursuit of profit, businesses sometimes have the opportunity to exploit a customer’s lack of knowledge. Ethical OpEx managers, however, choose to educate customers and provide fair and transparent information, even if it means reduced short-term gains.

Giving Someone a Second Chance After a Terrible Mistake

People make mistakes, and ethical leaders recognize the value of redemption. An OpEx manager may face a decision of whether to give someone a second chance after a severe error. This decision can be a testament to their belief in personal growth and rehabilitation.

Not Giving Preferential Treatment

Fairness is a cornerstone of ethical decision-making. OpEx managers must make choices that do not favor certain individuals or groups, ensuring that everyone is treated equally and without bias.

These examples illustrate the complexity of ethical decision-making in various situations, from corporate dilemmas to personal choices. In each scenario, ethical considerations play a significant role in guiding the decision-maker toward the most morally sound option. 


Which is an example of an ethical issue?

An example of an ethical issue is the dilemma faced by a healthcare professional who must decide whether to prioritize patient confidentiality or report potential harm to the patient or others. This situation raises questions about the balance between privacy and public safety.

What is an ethical issue in real life?

In real life, an ethical issue could involve a business executive deciding whether to engage in environmentally harmful practices to boost profits or, alternatively, to invest in sustainable and eco-friendly processes, reflecting the moral responsibility towards the environment.

What are examples of ethical issues in studies?

Ethical issues in studies often revolve around the treatment of human subjects in research. Examples include informed consent, ensuring participant privacy and confidentiality, and minimizing harm or distress caused by the research process.

What is the ethical dilemma in end-of-life care?

The ethical dilemma in end-of-life care relates to whether to continue life-sustaining treatments for a terminally ill patient when there is little hope of recovery. Balancing a patient’s autonomy, the wishes of their family, and the principle of non-maleficence (do no harm) can present complex ethical challenges.

What are examples of student ethics?

Examples of student ethics include maintaining academic integrity by not plagiarizing work, respecting the rights and property of others, participating honestly in peer evaluations, and being reliable in group project settings.

How do businesses address ethical issues in supply chains?

Businesses address ethical issues in supply chains by implementing transparent sourcing practices, ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions for laborers, and actively combating child labor and forced labor. Ethical supply chain management also involves reducing the environmental impact of production and distribution.

These questions and answers cover a range of ethical issues, from healthcare and business to research and end-of-life care, providing insights into how ethical dilemmas manifest in different aspects of life and how they can be addressed.

Final Thoughts:

Ethical decision-making is an ongoing process that requires a deep understanding of values, principles, and the ability to navigate complex moral dilemmas. By exploring models, philosophies, and real-life examples, individuals can enhance their ethical decision-making skills and contribute to a more just and ethical society. 

Remember that ethical choices have a profound impact, not just on ourselves but on the world around us. So, let’s strive to make ethical decisions that reflect our values and make the world a better place.

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