ENGR 0011 Sanchez 4:00
Ethical Dilemmas Faced by Engineers
Jared Man ([email protected])
but there are many issues that go with the use of human test
subjects. “When recruiting volunteers for visual prosthesis
implants, it is critical that the visual prosthesis researchers
should not only take into account the patient’s expectations
and motivations, but also make the patients fully aware of the
possible benefits and risks involved with their participation,
and help patients establish realistic expectations for the early
phase of visual prosthesis implantation” [2]. This means the
patient needs to have a good idea of how the experiment will
affect them and know what can happen if something goes
wrong. This leads to the problem of lack of volunteers due to
fear of mishaps. The project that I planned would require
surgical procedures on the test subject in order to implant the
device and then connect the visual prosthesis to the brain.
Surgery comes with many health risks for the patient which is
why many are hesitant to volunteer themselves for
experiments similar to mine.
I am not the first person to run surgical experimentation,
and there have been multiple cases in the past where
something went wrong leading to the injury or death of the
volunteer. People are aware of these accidents and I want to
make the ethical decision of providing them with information
about negative side effects before performing the surgery.
Although people would love to have vision, they do not want
to risk something happening that will ruin the rest of their
An unethical decision I can make to avoid experimentation
problems is to test my product on involuntary humans. This
would go against what society deems as politically correct,
but it would make experimentation a lot easier for me. The
group Citizens Against Human Experimentation (CAHE) are
a not-for-profit organization that “is dedicated to stopping
involuntary human experimentation” [3]. This organization
will bring any illegal actions public causing me to go to prison
and pay large fines.
An engineer’s job is to solve problems in the world. I
want to become a bioengineer because I would like to help
people or animals who have physical health problems,
especially in the field of vision and visual prosthetics.
However, with great power comes great responsibility. There
are many ethical dilemmas that an engineer will face while
searching for solutions to a problem. For example, a faulty
product could result in the death or injury of others. By not
double checking the safety of a product, a consumer may
accidentally misuse the item. Engineers are supposed to solve
problems, not make more of them. By ignoring ethics,
engineering can be very dangerous.
Another way that engineers will face ethical dilemmas is
with bribes. A competing company may offer a financial
prize to an engineer to make a faulty product so that the
company whose name will be put on the product will look
bad. It would be unethical to accept the bribe from the
competing company because it would show your dishonesty
and lack of loyalty. Also, if you are caught doing this, there
will be punishment and the chances of finding a job afterward
are very slim.
In order to combat engineering ethics, organizations have
been created. The American Society of Civil Engineers,
American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American
Institute of Electrical Engineers and American Institute of
Mining Engineers. These provide “codes and standards,
publications, conferences, continuing education and
professional development programs for advancing technical
knowledge and a safer world” [1]. These not-for-profit
organizations are important to the engineering world because
they provide guidelines for how a professional engineer is
supposed to act.
I am a bioengineer and would like to create bionic eyes
to help people who do not have vision, to be see and form
images of the world in their brain. A very common ethical
dilemma that I will have to face is the use of testing my
creations. I have to choose between testing on animals first,
or apply my work on humans immediately. There are many
organizations in the world that are against the testing of
potentially harmful devices on animals, one of which is
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). These
groups will bring any type of animal cruelty or unruly
punishment publicly which will not help me to continue my
research on bionic eyes. Volunteer test subjects are an option,
There is a very good chance that I come across people who
will not take ethics seriously in the working world. People
who only want whatever is best for themselves. If a colleague
or supervisor asked me to perform unethical actions, I would
have to make a decision on whether to follow their advice
knowing what I am doing is wrong, or to ignore them and
possibly report them. Many people perform unethical actions
because someone of higher power asks them to and threatens
them if they do not do it. This is a very common scenario in
the real world. If I were in this position, I would not perform
the unethical action because I would not be able to live with
University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering
Jared Man
the guild knowing what I did was wrong. Instead, I can report
my supervisor to one of the many organizations which
promote whistle blowing. Whistle blowing is “when a worker
reports suspected wrongdoing at work. Officially this is called
‘making a disclosure in the public interest” [4]. There are
laws in America which protect whistleblowers from the
company retaliating. A worker can report a company or
supervisor if they deem an action or order to be unhealthy or
if it goes against their contract. The National Whistleblowers
Center is a non-profit organization which “protects
employees’ lawful disclosure of waste, fraud, and abuse” [5].
People who plan on bringing unethical actions of a company
to the public can go to the National Whistleblowers Center to
seek help and feel secure while talking about their
If a “shortcut” that would get my product to market sooner,
or would get my research and results noticed or published
sooner has occurred to me, but could cause potential
problems, I would not take this shortcut. Visual prosthesis
surgery is a very dangerous procedure and I would not take
any shortcuts when dealing with the safety of others. I believe
that a human life is more important than any kind of financial
profit and would rather make no money instead of hurting
someone. If the shortcut would not be harmful to any kind of
organism, I would consider using it because it would help
speed up the process of getting my inventions published or
save me a lot of money.
If I were scheduled to try my newly prototyped device in
the local animal laboratory and know the animal will be
shared with another team who will use the animal first for
their purpose before I can use it for my project, then I notice
that the animal seems to be “light” on anesthesia and makes
strange noises during skin incision, I would stop and make
sure that the animal is not suffering. I would not completely
stop the procedure, but I will delay it in order to get more
outside help and make sure the animal is not in pain. I would
not anger the lab person by insisting he do things differently,
but I would politely ask him to reconsider and explain my
feelings of discomfort. If he gets mad and feels that I am
insulting him, I will tell him I just want to make sure the
animal is not being harmed. If he is positive the animal in not
feeling any pain, I will continue the procedure normally. I
can possibly call a veterinarian or the lab person’s supervisor
who can hopefully support the lab person’s claim. This
incident would be my problem if the lab person is correct and
the animal is not feeling pain, but it would be the laboratory’s
problem if he is wrong and I find out the animal is hurting.
To avoid a situation similar to this in the future, I can have
qualified helpers come in and make sure the right amount of
anesthesia is administered. [7]
Giving a person prosthetic limbs has been a very ethically
challenging debate for many years. It is argued that by giving
a person prosthetic limbs makes them a cyborg. The question,
“Are they really fully human anymore?” arises and has been
discussed thoroughly. Some believe that it is unethical to
implant unnatural, manmade devices in or on the human body
because it is mutilating the person. In the Jewish religion, it
is forbidden to get tattoos or piercings because “this would
seem to be mutilation of the body, regarded as nivulhameit, disgrace to the dead” [6]. Some argue that this body
modification is for health reasons and should not be
reprimanded in the Orthodox Jewish community. Jews who
follow the Torah more strictly believe that this body
modification should deny them the right to perform in
synagogue rituals and be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
Another problem that bioengineers face with prosthetic
limbs is imperfection. The technology is still evolving and
has many flaws which need to be fixed, yet people still receive
prosthetic limbs. Is it right to give a child a prosthetic limb,
or should they be allowed to grow up and learn how to live
naturally without the artificial technology? The response to
this question all depends on the answerer’s morals, ethics, and
personal views or experiences.
If I had an outstanding team member who always had great
ideas and made me and another team member frustrated and
devalued, I will tell my fellow frustrated team member that
everything will be alright. Just because we do not come up
with the greatest ideas does not mean we are not contributing
members of the team. There is nothing we can do about the
extremely bright team member because she is not doing
anything wrong. She is actually making our team look better
and that is all that matters; that the team succeeds in the end.
If this happens, then we are doing our jobs correctly and there
is nothing to worry about. Together, we can think of other
roles we can play on the team, such as a leader, or mediator
or arguments. We can be crucial parts of the team without
being the most creative. I think it would be a good idea to
discuss the issue with other team members. I would have Ms.
Bright in attendance, telling her she is doing a good job and
to keep it up. The best for me is to make sure the team does
not fall apart because one person is rising above the rest. It is
best if the team can assign roles for each member to make sure
everything runs smoothly. Ms. Bright would be happy to hear
that she is doing a good job and everyone else will be happy
that they are contributing to the team in a positive way. [8]
University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering
Jared Man
This code of ethics is similar to the NSPE code of ethics, but
the BMES has guidelines regarding patients and health care.
For example, Bioengineers should “regard responsibility
toward and rights of patients, including those of
confidentiality and privacy, as their primary concern” [11].
If I were developing a tool used in hip replacement and I
had to choose between two materials, A and B, where A is
less expensive, but B will not weaken when exposed to the
heat and pressure of autoclave sterilization, therefore having
the ability to be reused, I would choose material B. I believe
that the safety of humans is more important than money. I am
not selfish enough to make others suffer for my own benefit.
Especially knowing that doctors will reuse the device no
matter what, I would want them to use a safer material.
I do not believe that it matters whether doctors will reuse
the device in some countries. The price would depend on
what he country is able to afford. It would be based on the
current status of their economy and how much money they
have to spend on my devices. Third world countries who
struggle to afford proper medical equipment would be offered
the device at a cheaper price. On the other hand, countries
which have better healthcare and the money to afford my
device may be sold the device for a little bit more money. [9]
In conclusion, ethics are a vital part to the engineering
world. It is important that engineers know what is ethically
correct and incorrect because we have the power to change
the future and our products can be used by millions of people
daily. I will always put safety above money because I feel
that a human life is the most valuable thing in the world. As
an engineer, I want to solve problems instead of creating more
and by following a code of ethics, I can do that. Engineers
are going to have to make tough decisions multiple times
throughout their career and it is better if they choose the
ethically right choice.
The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
provides a general Code of Ethics for engineers of every type.
The very first thing on the NSPE Code of Ethics is “Hold
paramount safety, health, and welfare of the public” [10]. I
find this very important because I believe that safety should
come first. The job of an engineer is to solve problems of the
world and find ways to improve life. By not putting safety
first, you would be doing the exact opposite of what an
engineers should do. You would only be causing more
problems if your device or creation ends up hurting one or
more people. I find that a lot of the codes and guidelines are
up to the judgment of the engineer. This can be scary because
one person may deem something safe, while another engineer
says it is dangerous and will cause injury. It is hard to predict
what will happen because there are too many unknown
variables to account for. Overall, the NSPE provide a good
set of broad guidelines that are not specific to one kind of
engineering but covers a lot of crucial areas.
The Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) created a
Code of Ethics which was last updated in February of 2004.
This code of ethics a lot shorter than the code of ethics created
by NSPE, most likely because it is much more specific and
aimed to guide a certain group of engineers and not all of them
in general. The first thing on the BMES Code of Ethics is:
Engineers shall “Use their knowledge, skills, and abilities to
enhance the safety, health, and welfare of the public” [11].
University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering
[1] “Mission, Vision, and Strategic Priorities.”
(2014). ASME. (online article).
[2] Y. Xia, Q. Ren (2012). “Ethical Considerations
for Volunteer Recruitment of Visual Prosthesis
Trials.” Spring Science + Media. (online article).
[3] “Citizens Against Human Experimentation.”
(2004). CAHE.org (online article).
[4] “Whistleblowing.” (2014). Gov.uk. (online
[5] “About Us.” (2007). National Whistleblowers
Center. (online article).
[6] R. Wolfson (2014). “Death and Special Issues
of the Body.” MyJewishLearning. (online article).
[7] “Case 19-The Animal Lab.” (2014). Stanford
Ethics Case Studies in Biodesign. (online article).
[8] “Case 16-A Bright Team Member.” (2014).
Stanford Ethics Case Studies in Biodesign. (online
Jared Man
[9] “Case 10-Third World Considerations.” (2014).
Stanford Ethics Case Studies in Biodesign. (online
[10] “NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers.” (2014).
NSPE.org. (online article).
[11] “Biomedical Engineering Society Code of
Ethics.” (2004). BMES.org. (online article).
I would like to thank my parents who I spoke to about my
paper. My mother, who was an engineer, gave me good
advice regarding the way an engineer should act and how to
deal with ethical dilemmas. Additionally, I would like to
thank the kind person at the writing center. Sadly, I do not
know the name of this person, but she was able to give me
pointers about the organization of my paper and I greatly
appreciate her help.
University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering

Ethical Dilemmas Faced by Engineers