Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ethical Systems and Moral Dilemmas: Part 3

Here is the third in the three part series on ethical systems and moral dilemmas. In this section, we were to analyze the four case studies according to our own ethical systems and our position on moral dilemmas. We were also to answer the following questions:

  • Is this situation an actual moral dilemma? Why or why not?
  • What duty/duties are involved in this situation, and how does one know?
  • Is this situation a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils, the greater of two goods, or something else? Why?
  • Did the person act rightly or wrongly in this situation? Why?
  • What role do consequences play in deciding whether what was done in this situation is right or wrong?

Here I’ve provided the case studies and my very brief analysis of them. How do you look at the situations? What would you do?

Situation #1

Susan, a student in your youth ministry asks if she can speak to you. She has something she wants to tell you, but she makes you promise not to tell anyone. Without thinking, you quickly give your word to Susan. She tells you that Emily, another student in your youth group is experimenting with drugs. Susan want to help Emily, but does not know how. Emily is aware that Susan knows of her drug use and has made it clear to her that if Susan tells anyone, their friendship is over. Susan needs you to trust her. Emily is the senior pastor’s daughter. Do you keep confidentiality with Susan and try to help her help Susan? Do you break confidentiality (your promise) and talk to Emily and/or her parents? What do you do and why?

My two main duties in this situation are to protect Emily’s life and to protect Susan’s trust in me. Both duties stem from my position as a spiritual leader and my obligation to the wellbeing of those in my care. The probable (but not certain) consequences of Emily harming herself if I do not intervene and Susan not trusting me if I do, influence but do not determine my options. My first option is to see if Emily would be willing to meet with me, via Susan’s invitation. If I am able to meet with Emily, and her parents are included soon, there is no dilemma. If Emily will not meet, or the meeting(s) go poorly, I am forced to take option two, to talk directly with Emily and her parents without Emily’s consent. This is choosing the lesser of two evils, breaking my rash vow in order to protect Emily’s life. I honestly do not know if this is a true moral dilemma, because I got myself into it. Also, because Susan has also broken confidence by speaking to me, when I compassionately point this out, I should be able to keep a measure of Susan’s trust.

Situation #2

Michael comes to you for counseling. Michael desires therapy for a condition that is easily diagnosed and for which, through a series of sessions, you could help him. The problem is that his condition is not covered by his insurance. He seriously desired help. A possible solution is to “diagnose” him with a condition that will be covered by insurance (falsify his record), so that you can treat him for his actual condition. What do you do and why?

This situation is not a moral dilemma. My options are not limited to insurance fraud or being guilty of not fulfilling my professional and Christian duty to help Michael, my neighbor. The probable detrimental consequences to Michael’s health if he does not receive treatment do not force me to commit insurance fraud, but rather to seek out creative solutions. If Michael is truly desirous of help, I should be able to work out a payment plan or reduced rate for Michael. If that is not possible, I can choose to do pro-bono work or do some research and direct Michael to someone who is able to do pro-bono work. Intentionally misdiagnosing Michael is committing insurance fraud and out of the question because this is dishonest and illegal. My duty is to reflect the character of Christ, especially in my role as counselor where I am acting on behalf of the Great Counselor. As such I can not lie.

Situation #3

You have just been called to be senior pastor at Sun City Baptist Church in Sun City, Arizona (a community populated mainly by retirees). Shortly into your pastorate, you become aware that a significant number of the “couples” in your congregation are living together without being married. It is explained that they are widows and widowers who are married in the eyes of God, but not in the eyes of the state of Arizona. As it is, the couples are barely able to make ends meet when both the man and woman are receiving benefits. If they married, the women would lose their state benefits and the couples would be unable to survive. What do you do and why?

This situation is probably not a moral dilemma. My duty is to compassionately lead my flock, care for the widow, and hold a standard of morality. I have three main options. The first option is to do nothing. I am not aware of any law or compelling reason that a couple must have the state recognize their marriage by applying for marriage licenses. If our government stopped recognizing marriages, Christians would still publicly recognize their marriages among themselves. This is a grey area, as I do not have enough knowledge of the marriage and benefit laws in the state of Arizona. A second option is to research creative financial solutions. I could individually meet with each couple and stress the serious nature of their sin, insisting that the church seeks to support them. I would ask them to submit to a financial advisor, who would help them reorganize their finances, and to seek help from their children, as children are obligated to provide for their parents. (Mk 7:9-13) For those couples who were still in financial hardship, I seek to get the denomination behind a group home project. If the financial option failed, I would go with option three, to resign the position and request a transfer. I do not know how to properly uphold a standard of morality as a pastor, and care for the widow—two things very dear to God’s heart. I could not choose between excommunicating widows or putting them on the street. This congregation needs someone with more wisdom then me. (And I suspect, they will have tired of all my prodding and will want to be rid of me!)

Situation #4

You are on the mission field in Thailand. In the Hmong society of North Thailand, with the payment of the bridal price, the bride becomes the property of her husband and his clan. If her husband dies, the husband’s family will try to marry her to one of the clan. If she marries outside the clan, she loses her children. A young Christian husband succumbs to cerebral malaria and dies, leaving behind a young Christian wife and three children. As the property of her husband’s non-Christian relatives, she faces either being remarried within the clan to a non-Christian, or being remarried outside the clan to a Christian but losing her children to these non-believers. She gives her consent to an arranged marriage to a non-Christian within the clan, thus ensuring that her children will remain with her.

This woman acted rightly, choosing the lesser of two evils. On one side is Paul’s urging to the Corinthians about not marrying unbelievers (2Cor 6:14, 1Cor 7:39). If she had no children, she should not submit to marrying a non-Christian clan member. On the other side is the emphasis throughout scripture to raise one’s children in the knowledge of the Lord (e.g. Dt 6:7, Eph 6:4). If she chose not to submit to marriage in the clan, she would not “defile” herself, but she would also have no influence on her children. Her duty is to her children; their good comes before her own good. 1Cor 7:12-16 also has bearing. This passage refers to couples already married when one of them becomes a believer and that believer choosing to stay in the marriage with the hope of influencing the spouse and having continuing influence on the children. This woman’s situation is similar, though not exactly analogous, because in her culture she does not actually have free choice—she is property.

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