Home Education Ethics and the Practice of Forensic Science
Result of Decisions
Once a decision is made, it is common for a person to reflect on the decision. Was the right choice made? What would I change? Would I make this decision again? What led me to this decision? It is at this point that we will consider the ethics of means and ends, or what is more commonly known as dilemmas of actions and consequences. Ethical judgment should take human action into consideration. When actions occur, certain patterns emerge as shown in Table 1.1.
The first two patterns are self-explanatory as these are the outcomes one would expect. The latter are more complex and are better explained with the examples that follow.
Table 1.1 Actions and Consequences
Kendal, a trace evidence examiner, determined that a questioned hair sample should be sent for mitochondrial DNA analysis. Penelope, another colleague, agreed with her assessment during her review. When their supervisor, Cecilia, reviewed the sample, she determined that the hair should actually be sent for nuclear DNA analysis, a more specific test. After showing Kendal that there was excellent sheath material present for the nuclear DNA test, Cecilia decided to ridicule her in front of other colleagues for her initial decision.
This is an example of bad actions that led to good consequences. Ridiculing a colleague is a troubling action; however, in this case because of Cecilia’s reaction Kendal learned that a second review is helpful. She also became aware that she needs to focus on both the quantity and the quality of the sheath material present. The bad action is somewhat justified because it had a positive result. What if Cecilia were not the supervisor? Would this make a difference? What if she had taken it further than ridicule and actually started verbally abusing Kendal? Who determines where that line is? Would these factors affect the outcome? The nature of actions, the effectiveness of consequences, and the relationship between the participant’s factors into making judgments.
James, a crime scene analyst, recently accepted a drug chemist position in his laboratory. His friend Matt, who was already a drug chemist, had recommended James for the open position. After a few months in his new job, James began to steal small amounts of drugs from evidence for personal use.
This is an example of a good action that led to bad consequences. Matt’s motives were good; he knew his friend was interested and qualified for the position so he wanted to help. The consequences of James getting the job were bad because they led to his substance abuse, stealing, and eventual dismissal from the laboratory. Who is to blame? Did Matt have any way to foresee the final outcome? Did Matt fully assess the risk before making a recommendation for his friend? Did James have a prior substance abuse problem? If so, did Matt know about it? Did James seek this position to support his habit? If there was no prior problem, could James have known that drug abuse would occur? In this type of situation, the person who is more informed is the person at fault; but who is that in this case?
Ethics is involved in many facets of life. Personal morals are individual in nature, although they need to comingle with professional ethics and the law. People do make honest mistakes and should not be punished for those; however, superiors should conduct a review to assure that the action was unintentional. It is possible for people to make ethical mistakes, so it is important to remember that moral problem solving is an extremely complex process. People do not always arrive at the same conclusion, but that does not necessarily make someone wrong. Although a particular situation might not have one right answer, there are clearly many wrong answers. People need to use their best judgment based on personal morals and common sense. Although using one’s best judgment is useful, most people believe that their ethical standards are higher than those of colleagues (Lucas, 2007); unfortunately, many people are wrong! Ethical dilemmas are categorized as situations in which the person did not know the right choice of action, what they considered to be right was too difficult or what was wrong was too tempting. Some examples of these dilemmas include bribery, corruption, gratuities, sex, and perjury. People have different personal obligations set by morals, ethics, law, politics, or religion that can lead to ethical dilemmas. People have various professional obligations that are set by their agency, professional organizations, or accrediting bodies. Due to such obligations, defining and dealing with behavior that falls between honest error and fraud is difficult (Macrina, 2005).
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