Discussion of ethics in Public Relations and applicability of consequentalist theories

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We might say that having plastic surgery is ethically permissible, because it is not wrong to have the surgery it is not impermissible , but neither is it ethically necessary obligatory to have the surgery. Some argue that suicide is permissible in certain circumstances. That is, a person would not be wrong in committing suicide, nor would they be wrong in not committing suicide.

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Others would say that suicide is ethically impermissible. Supererogatory : A fourth type of ethical action is called supererogatory.

Ethical Theories And Their Relevance

For example, two people are walking down a hallway and see a third person drop their book bag, spilling all of their books and papers onto the floor. If one person stops to help the third person pick up their books, but the other person keeps on walking, we somehow feel that the person who stopped to help has acted in a more ethically appropriate way than the person who did not stop, but we cannot say that the person who did not stop was unethical in not stopping.

In other words, the person who did not help was in no way obligated it was not ethically obligatory to help. But we nevertheless want to ethically praise the person who did stop, so we call his or her actions supererogatory. Making good ethical decisions requires a trained sensitivity to ethical issues and a practiced method for exploring the ethical aspects of a decision and weighing the considerations that should impact our choice of a course of action. Having a method for ethical decision making is essential. When practiced regularly, the method becomes so familiar that we work through it automatically without consulting the specific steps.

Here our method for ethical decision making should enable us to recognize these new and unfamiliar situations and to act accordingly. The more novel and difficult the ethical choice we face, the more we need to rely on discussion and dialogue with others about the dilemma. Only by careful exploration of the problem, aided by the insights and different perspectives of others, can we make good ethical choices in such situations.

Media Ethics Initiative: Ethics in Public Relations

Three Frameworks Based upon the three-part division of traditional normative ethical theories discussed above, it makes sense to suggest three broad frameworks to guide ethical decision making: The Consequentialist Framework; The Duty Framework; and the Virtue Framework. While each of the three frameworks is useful for making ethical decisions, none is perfect—otherwise the perfect theory would have driven the other imperfect theories from the field long ago. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of the frameworks will be helpful in deciding which is most useful in approach the particular situation with which we are presented.

The Consequentialist Framework In the Consequentialist framework, we focus on the future effects of the possible courses of action, considering the people who will be directly or indirectly affected.


We ask about what outcomes are desirable in a given situation, and consider ethical conduct to be whatever will achieve the best consequences. The person using the Consequences framework desires to produce the most good. Among the advantages of this ethical framework is that focusing on the results of an action is a pragmatic approach. It helps in situations involving many people, some of whom may benefit from the action, while others may not. On the other hand, it is not always possible to predict the consequences of an action, so some actions that are expected to produce good consequences might actually end up harming people.

Additionally, people sometimes react negatively to the use of compromise which is an inherent part of this approach, and they recoil from the implication that the end justifies the means. It also does not include a pronouncement that certain things are always wrong, as even the most heinous actions may result in a good outcome for some people, and this framework allows for these actions to then be ethical.

The Duty Framework In the Duty framework, we focus on the duties and obligations that we have in a given situation, and consider what ethical obligations we have and what things we should never do. This framework has the advantage of creating a system of rules that has consistent expectations of all people; if an action is ethically correct or a duty is required, it would apply to every person in a given situation. This even-handedness encourages treating everyone with equal dignity and respect. This framework also focuses on following moral rules or duty regardless of outcome, so it allows for the possibility that one might have acted ethically, even if there is a bad result.

Therefore, this framework works best in situations where there is a sense of obligation or in those in which we need to consider why duty or obligation mandates or forbids certain courses of action. However, this framework also has its limitations. First, it can appear cold and impersonal, in that it might require actions which are known to produce harms, even though they are strictly in keeping with a particular moral rule. It also does not provide a way to determine which duty we should follow if we are presented with a situation in which two or more duties conflict.

Discussion of ethics in Public Relations and applicability of consequentalist theories

It can also be rigid in applying the notion of duty to everyone regardless of personal situation. The Virtue Framework In the Virtue framework, we try to identify the character traits either positive or negative that might motivate us in a given situation. We are concerned with what kind of person we should be and what our actions indicate about our character. We define ethical behavior as whatever a virtuous person would do in the situation, and we seek to develop similar virtues. Obviously, this framework is useful in situations that ask what sort of person one should be.

As a way of making sense of the world, it allows for a wide range of behaviors to be called ethical, as there might be many different types of good character and many paths to developing it. Although this framework takes into account a variety of human experience, it also makes it more difficult to resolve disputes, as there can often be more disagreement about virtuous traits than ethical actions. Also, because it emphasizes the importance of role models and education to ethical behavior, it can sometimes merely reinforce current cultural norms as the standard of ethical behavior.

Putting the Frameworks Together By framing the situation or choice you are facing in one of the ways presented above, specific features will be brought into focus more clearly.

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However, it should be noted that each framework has its limits: by focusing our attention on one set of features, other important features may be obscured. Hence it is important to be familiar with all three frameworks and to understand how they relate to each other—where they may overlap, and where they may differ.

The chart below is designed to highlight the main contrasts between the three frameworks:.

Module 1 Foundations: Professional, Professions, Professional Responsibility

What are my obligations in this situation, and what are the things I should never do? What kind of person should I be or try to be , and what will my actions show about my character? Directs attention to the future effects of an action, for all people who will be directly or indirectly affected by the action.

Directs attention to the duties that exist prior to the situation and determines obligations. Attempts to discern character traits virtues and vices that are, or could be, motivating the people involved in the situation. Ethical conduct involves always doing the right thing: never failing to do one's duty.

Ethical conduct is whatever a fully virtuous person would do in the circumstances. Because the answers to the three main types of ethical questions asked by each framework are not mutually exclusive, each framework can be used to make at least some progress in answering the questions posed by the other two.

In many situations, all three frameworks will result in the same—or at least very similar—conclusions about what you should do, although they will typically give different reasons for reaching those conclusions. However, because they focus on different ethical features, the conclusions reached through one framework will occasionally differ from the conclusions reached through one or both of the others. Naturally, during the course of such deliberation, it is both possible and likely that a particular principle or principles will assume more or less importance.

Thus the prima facie status of the principles, in our view, supports the process of careful ethical deliberation and reflection; answers are not ready made from the outset and choices have to be formulated. The principle of non-maleficence — do no harm — asserts that a health care professional should act in such a way that he or she does no harm, even if her or his patient or client requests this [ 9 ]. Consideration of the non-maleficence principle shifts — at least — the burden of proof to those exercising potentially harmful behaviour that they are justified in doing so.

The obligation to produce benefit, for individual patients or clients, as we have implied above, is intimately connected to non- maleficence. The distinctive difference between the principle of non-maleficence on the one hand and that of beneficence on the other lies in the fact that the former frequently — but not always — involves the omission of harmful action and the latter active contribution towards the welfare of others [ 9 ].

Non-maleficence and beneficence can be understood in both deontological and consequentialist terms. Yet as principles they do not seem to go to the core of public health values.

This is at least partly because of their tendency to be associated with, and used in trying to analyse, individual professional-client encounters. Even when following beneficence and non-maleficence in these individual encounters, it does not necessarily mean that population health is maximised, as the population is not at all within the focus of these micro- encounters.

In the field of public health, the primary end sought is the health of the broader constituency of the public and improvements to this are the key outcome used to measure success [ 10 ]. In fact, the maximisation of population health, on the one hand, and beneficence and non-maleficence, on the other hand, can come into conflict. Here we are thinking of the idea that public health professionals have an obligation to maximise health in the populations for which they are responsible. In fact, our preference is for the ethical principle underscoring this obligation to be referred to as one of health maximisation.

It seems perverse to claim that public health professionals are primarily interested in other kinds of benefit over and above maximising health and opportunities for health; thus a specific principle of health maximisation, we argue, needs to constitute the third of the mid-level principles that form the content grounds of our short course teaching and learning. Of course, none of this is to deny the disputability of the concept of health, and the possibility of profound disagreement about what exactly it is that we are attempting to maximise [ 20 ].

We will return to this point later in our discussion. There will always be more health need than resources to deal with that need. Literally all public health systems and health care systems worldwide lack resources. These two statements prompt the advocacy of a moral duty to use scarce health resources efficiently.

1. Varieties of business ethics

This duty exists at least partly because efficient use will enable public health professionals to produce more health benefit for greater numbers of people. So a moral principle of efficiency would demand, for example, the use of the evidence base and the performance of cost-benefit analyses to decide what should be done and how to do it. For example, in considering the cost and benefit of undertaking or not undertaking a particular public health intervention, are we limiting our views of these things simply to the health sector or to the effect of the intervention on the wider social fabric and governance of public services?

Here we need to emphasise that the principle of efficiency has moral applicability, which needs to be disentangled from other considerations of efficiency, such as economics. The paternalistic benevolence contained in the principles of non-maleficence and beneficence is strongly tempered by the emphasis on respect for the autonomy of the patient who the health care professional is seeking to serve [ 9 , 21 ].

The principle of respect for autonomy extends, however, beyond the confines of individual health care; it is crucially important within the public health context. The frequent focus of public health on benefit for populations holds the potential for concern with individual welfare to be side- lined. Despite this, however, the tension between individual rights and broader conceptions of public benefit is a profound one for public health as a field of practice.

This tension, and the relative command that such broader conceptions of benefit often seem to possess, leads us to assert that in cases where autonomy restriction for wider public health goals is being contemplated e. Because as humans we all have or should have autonomy, we all have or should have equal moral worth. Thus, proposals for the unequal treatment of people again require the burden of proof. Justice, to the contrary, demands equal opportunities. In a very prominent conception of justice in the context of health, Daniels [ 13 ] considers health equity thus a matter of fairness and justice.

Justice is also the principle that covers normative aspects that are often discussed in the terminology of solidarity and reciprocity.

Ethical Culture

Justice does so by giving an answer to the question of what we owe to each other [ 13 ]. To have a concise set of principles, we focus only on justice. Our seventh and final principle differs somewhat from those preceding it. As a principle, proportionality is certainly normative. It demands that in weighing and balancing individual freedom against wider social goods, considerations will be made in a proportionate way.

According to Childress et al. For instance, the policy may breach autonomy or privacy and have undesirable consequences. However, proportionality is also a methodological principle. In a manner different to the principles we have so far discussed, it forms the basis for casuistic reasoning in relation to problems of individual welfare versus collective benefit in public health. Singer et al.