Student's Dilemas

Topics: Ethics, Judith Jarvis Thomson, Trolley problem Pages: 4 (1140 words) Published: May 15, 2011
Teaching Background

Students discuss an ethical dilemma that is readily comprehensible – who to save in a lifeboat. The various ethical perspectives can be derived in students’ own words. Alternatively, each group can assume one perspective and analyze their choices through that lens. Student Handouts: Ethical Group Discussion – The Lifeboat

Discussions about the lifeboat are influenced strongly by how the question is posed. Be sure to allow room for solutions that maximize fairness (i.e. drawing straws) by asking students to focus on how they are making their decision. Students often default to solutions that are outcome-based. It is useful to be able to show that there are other approaches that can be applied. Although the lifeboat scenario does not directly address science, it has many applications to issues that may pertain to a science classroom. Examples are organ allocation (who should get the scarce organ for transplant?) and vaccine distribution (who should receive scarce supplies of vaccine?) Provide students with the scenario, and specify how long they have to discuss it. Have each group identify someone to explain how the decision was reached, and provide justification. From the debriefing, derive elements of the ethical theories. Also discuss some of the confusion, conflicts, benefits and limitations of each ethical theory.

Assign each group an ethical perspective, and ask them to base their decisions on that perspective. Refer to the ‘Ethics as a Discipline’ section of the Primer for more information about each perspective. Moral Rules Groups may choose a rule such as “every life counts” in which case a certain set of people get chosen according to these rules, for example, by lottery. Virtues Based Groups may hold “achievement” or “justice” as their priority, in which case a certain set of people gets chosen according to who demonstrates the greatest possession of these virtues. In the interest of time, have the group choose one virtue as...
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