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The Concept Of an Ethical Dilemma

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Identify an ethical dilemma that either you have experienced or could theoretically encounter in future social work practice. Provide brief details of the dilemma and evaluate a range of ethical perspectives that you could draw upon to make sense of the situation.’ This assignment will focus on explaining what an ethical dilemma is whilst discussing a future possible social work scenario. I will evaluate the dilemma using three different ethical perspectives to resolve a case involving social media, professional boundaries and the importance of human relationships. This ethical dilemma will highlight the difficulties that may arise when trying to come to a sound decision, on the course of action that would be the ‘right’ one. Social workers face various dilemmas on a day to day basis in their field of work. (Alan,2012) Moral difficulties take place regularly in social work, considering the issues are arisen frequently convoluted with clashing interests, rights and needs of people included (Gray and Webb, 2010).

An ethical dilemma can be defined as a situation where you have two equally justifiable choices, frequently involves moral values. Both the choices, which are equally reliable but only one of them which you can take but cannot decide which one to go with as the both decisions are equally possible alternatives. This is about, which decision might be a better option. Banks (2012) The presence of multiple choice does not make decision-making for social workers any easier, any decision that is made social workers have to take responsibility and accountability before reaching a decision. Legal and moral rights of all parties must be noted. An individual’s values and ethical principles which are continuing convictions about what one deems to be correct and determine how one interprets the law. (Banks, 1995).

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According to (Rhodes, 1991) any decision which does not acknowledge influencing factors will not be the right one. The hypothetical dilemma I will be referring to involves Mathew, a 23-year-old male living with his female partner who has revealed he has HIV and getting treatment for it. Mathew has revealed he has not been sharing this information with his current partner and will continue to remain sexually active within his relationship. The dilemma in this case is being my difficult position in processing this information and making my decision on what to do with the information revealed. The implications are Mathew is putting his partners life at risk. The moral establishments of social work give standards and clear lines of direction as codes of training (GSCC, 2015; BASW 2014; HCPC,2012a) including universal types of codes of training, for example, IFSW to give a bound together expert esteem position. A value position advancement of human rights and social equality. These codes and growing writing on social work esteems and morals give a beginning stage from which contending qualities can be examined (Gray and Webb, 2010; Bell and Hafford Letchfield, 2015).

In spite of the fact that there are a few assets reverberating the moral codes and standards these won’t give you the right choice. The wide rules must be custom-made to and prevailed upon to settle on a choice. In the profession of social work considering consequences and being aware of issues that may arise from certain actions and decisions is unavoidable and crucial. This is evident from the scenario, I am using in this assignment. Regardless of the choice and decision I make I have to be fully aware of the consequences of both actions and consider the long and short-term impact for both Mathew and his partner. As a social worker you need to have a firm grasp on the values at the core of the profession as well as a clear understanding on the codes of practice and principles. Having a coherent understanding will mean you can make better informed decisions and be able to justify your actions. There are a number of values and principles within social work e.g. importance of human relationships, professional integrity that can help inform and determine what course of action you favour as a social worker and essentially “value systems inform our actions, they are part of the’ emotional mobilisation that makes us reach a decision and shape the way the we think” Pg8 (Beckett and Maynard, 2005) It is the foundation principle, when trying to follow a systematic approach, as well following ethical guidelines. “value systems inform our actions, they are part of the’ emotional mobilisation that makes us reach a decision and shape the way the we think. Therefore, the judgments we make as well as the perceptions we hold about people are based on our values”. (Beckett and Maynard)

Although there are values and professional codes of ethics, practice and conduct there is no simple process in making the ‘right’ decision. As a social worker you will regularly have to contend with conflicting values and decide which value you prioritise, and others may not agree with you as everyone’s value system and beliefs are not the same. In this particular dilemma the conflicting values are breaching confidentiality, the value of human relationships and professional integrity. (pg48,49, social work values and ethics fourth edition, Frederic G. Reamer) In order to consider different perspectives on how to resolve this dilemma involving Mathew, I will be utilising three prominent theories including, virtue ethics, utilitarianism/ consequentialism and Kantian ethics. When looking at virtue ethics, according to Aristole (384-322 BCE) this approach focuses on the goodness of the act and not being bound down by the duties itself. (Gary and Webb 2010) “Virtue ethics is a theory that looks in to an individual’s character. Virtue ethics is an approach ‘according to which the basic judgments in ethics are judgments about character’ (Statman, 1997:7). However, this perspective does not furnish you with an efficient approach on settling a moral issue effectively. When looking at this approach from a professional point of view, it would not be the most effective way of practice.

There is no clear picture to how a virtuous person decides the right course of action. Moreover, according to an atheist, the correct course of action is, which is done by a virtuous disposition. If I was to apply this approach in Mathews case, I will understand his situation to the core. (Valios, 2011) states in his article that , if HIV diagnosed patients are not consistent with their medication, it can cause major “consequences” in the long-term for their health, mentally and physically. Taking that in to consideration, I will be finding out how he is getting on with his treatments or if his having any troubles taking medication. My intention would be for him to reach his full potential of wellbeing as that is the most important thing at that specific moment in time. Therefore, as a virtuous social worker, I will be “required to do the right thing, in the right place, at the right time” (Gary and Webb, 2013). To put Mathews mind at ease I will explain to him that whatever, he will be telling me today will be confidential.

According to a virtue It is important to recognise the inner moral goodness courage yourself to think morally. Considering the sensitivity of this situation and complexity. I will think about Mathews mental health because I have such as sensitivity, understanding, compassion and liberality because of the virtues. Being considerate that subject like HIV can be very sensitive, I will think about referring him to counselling. Where he can revaluate and think about what he really wants. If he does not tell his partner about his condition is he having protected sex or taking precautions, taking in to mind he has been with his partner for 4 years. He is obliged to tell his partner the truth about his condition. Ethically he should disclose to his partner. It is up to him to decide what he wants to do after this. I believe that Mathew will come to terms with the fact that he should tell his partner the truth and I have confidence in him he will with the right support and encouragement. Fear of losing his partner and being lonely may cloud his thoughts but the decision of getting the help of counselling and revaluation and moving away from his partner for a while, he will go through this process and it will give help him reflect.

On the other hand, for instance, from the perspective of virtue ethics, I am acting as a virtuous person would act, but in this case, I the social worker has competing duties too, to both confidentiality and public health/safety. Justice is one of the main virtues but is it more just to maintain confidentiality and risk the individual remaining a potential risk to the health of others, including his partner, or to break confidentiality in the interests of public health. As a professional in the middle of such a situation it is not clear how I should act. I have done the best I could do as a virtue social worker, not forgetting, this will not eliminate the risks, nor it will make it doubtless. As a social I have advised him what the consequences can be If he does not disclose it to his partner, because there are potential victims and risks to others’ lives. Hence keeping a close eye on his case and tracking how much time, we have given Mathew with counselling and coming to a decision while his away from his partner.

An article by Adams (2009), in which he states that, when dealing with a situation we are uncertain about and want act with integrity. We should get help from someone who has a necessary virtue and more knowledge. consequentialism would be another perspective. This is a teleological hypothesis and the overwhelming theory in this school of thought is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a moral theory first put forward by Jeremy Bentham. (1748-1832) and further developed by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Two cases of consequentialism are utilitarianism and hedonism. Utilitarianism judges results by a “biggest useful for the best number” standard. Whereas Hedonism, says something is “great” if the result produces “pleasure” or avoids “pain”. (Akhtar,2013) Utilitarianism is that an action right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number. According to the utilitarian /consequentialist theory, I will encourage Mathew to tell his partner about his HIV dieses, thinking about the consequences in Mathews case, there are many obstacles of disclosing the information to his partner and there is potential outcome of not disclosing.

Taking in to consideration of the positives and negatives outcomes in this case and by weighing them, I believe an informed decision can be made. A decision that a utilitarianism would agree with, a decision that will serve the greatest happiness for the greatest number of individuals. (Gray and Webb, 2010). If he does tell his partner, there is a possibility she might decides to separate from him, she will feel deceived, horrified in that moment. She will be hurt and shocked because of the relationship that has been built throughout the years and she might feel like her trust has been broken. Mathew may feel unhappy and distressed with the choice, but it saves both people from more damage and suffering in the future. This choice will cause less suffering and pain in the long run. It is not unlawful, if he does not tell his partner, but morally he is being deceitful towards them. Not only hiding about him having HIV, but also putting his partners life at risk too. As a utilitarian, I the social worker have a duty not just to this person but also to people who are related to this. (Refrance) when I discuss consequentialism, I also need to think of all the consequences involved for the individual concerned if I break confidentiality, for public health, for my profession if the people I work with lose faith in being able to divulge private information to me in the knowledge I will keep it confidential. (, 2018).

An article on community care “HIV specialist social workers and their importance” states that “clients with HIV are fearful and concerned about “confidentiality” their worried that if people become aware of their diagnosis, they could lose their family, friends, jobs and their home. Not all social workers will understand the that fear of stigma (Valios, 2018). Moreover, if I do not breach confidentiality, I put Mathews partners life at risk. However, I cannot forget, Mathew has come to me for help, he is putting all his trust in me. He has approached me. There for I should first try helping him ethically and morally tell his partner by giving him the right support. Comparing both decisions, I will go with the first decision, I will encourage Mathew to tell his partner about his condition. This is a decision a utilitarian will focus on because it is producing greatest good for the greatest number of people. In contrast to utilitarianism/ consequentialism approach, If I was to use the deontological perspective to consider this dilemma it would mean, we would have to consider categorical imperatives and absolute rules dictated by Kant. Even though Kant died over 200 years ago, but his philosophical theories/ insights are left with us to guide moral behaviour of people and multiple organisations. (, 2018.

Kant’s well known deontological theories and duties have existed for many centuries. Kant (1724-1804). The word “deontology comes from the Greek word deon, meaning duty”. Kant states that we are ethically committed to act as per a specific “set of principles, standards and rules” paying little attention to result. In religious deontology, the standards get from divine instruction so that under religious laws, we are ethically committed not to lie, must not kill or cheat which are absolute rules. Kant says we all have a duty in this case, the duty of the social worker is to help Mathew out of his crises and improve his situation. In this case Mathew is not telling his partner keeping her blinded to it. Kant says he laying which is wrong. As an adult his obligated to tell his partner the truth it is an adult responsibility. Kant would say if he does not resolve the situation this means he does not respect his partner and he is lying/ living a lie.

As Kant says respect other people’s status as beings of moral worth as well as to respect ourselves and cleave to our own inner moral voices. Ethically Mathew is obliged to tell the truth as it is morally the right thing to do. Kantian describes moral philosophy, an aspect influential in social work ethics, as how an individual’s treats other people. Respect for a person is a categorical imperative. Which is a command and must be followed. (Kant, 1785-1964) Kant’s belief is that, it is not about the consequences of your actions that matter so much, is that you do them for the right reasons. The only genuinely good actions are the ones that you do purely out of respect for the moral rules. I find it difficult that any individuals or professionals and, in this case, a social worker would be able to take any actions purely out of respect without thinking about the consequences of their decision.


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