Before one can make an informed decision as to whether Martha Stewart's handled the incident responsibly or whether or not her actions were moral or immoral, one must first understand the basics of ethics and understand whose rights are involved and how they were affected. Then one must also examine who will be helped and who will be hurt by her actions and then make a decision based on the information and personal values as they relate to the issue. Martha Stewart was charged in 2001 with making false statements, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice during her sale of ImClone the day before the FDA announced its refusal to review a new cancer drug. This sale was scrutinized by authorities because it is illegal to have inside information and trade the stock before the bottom drops out.
In order to understand the ethics surrounding her statements and actions we must compare her actions against the different theories. Normative ethics shows us how to mentally dissect an issue and make a moral decision. There are two basic theories: utilitarian and deontological. When utilitarians make a moral decision, they look at the consequences of a decision in order to decide if it is right or wrong. This approach is called consequentialism. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill founded the most widely accepted consequentialist theory called utilitarianism. It comes from the word utility meaning good. They suggest that given that everyone's happiness is of equal value, a decision is right if it maximizes happiness for the greatest number of people over the long term. They always look at the long-term effects and believe in the course of action that promotes the greatest good and the least harm over time.
Deontological theory is concerned with inherent rights and duties. It is derived from the Greek word deontos, which means duty. Without consideration given to the decision's consequences, this theory focuses on the moral nature of the decision itself, the rights people have, and what duties are associated with them. They believe that for every right there is a corresponding duty. "For example, if I have the right to life, then others have a duty not to kill me."
These days everyone thinks that they have a right to just about everything. However, just because a decision or an action is permissible does not mean that one has a right to act upon it. For example, just because one has the freedom of speech, it is not permissible to yell "fire" in a crowded movie theater when there is not an actual fire. There are three basic types of rights: human, civil, and contractual rights. Those rights that all of us have because we are human beings are called human rights. For example, the right to life is a human right. The freedom of speech is an example of a civil right found in the United States of America's Bill of Rights. A civil right is where a citizen of a particular country has certain rights granted him by the constitution of that country. Finally, when people enter into agreements or contracts with others they have what is called contractual rights. Contractual rights are those rights that are explicitly and implicitly stated in the contract. The contract will also define who has the correlative duty.
These basic rights are further defined as positive or negative rights. The right to be left alone is called a negative right. It is sometimes called the right of non-interference. The United States Constitution contains many examples of negative rights such as the freedom of religion. The right to be provided with something is a positive right. The right to be provided an attorney if one can't afford one is an example of a positive right.
There are three basic steps in making a moral decision. When making a moral decision the first step is to determine who might be hurt or helped by the decision. The decision is right if by choosing that course of...