TOOLS FOR WRITING – THE ETHICAL DILEMMA ESSAY

Writing an Ethical Dilemma Essay

Table of contents


Defining an Ethical Dilemma

We all have a sense of ethics – moral principles that are a part of who we are. Some people are fully opposed to the death penalty; others are opposed to abortion; some support mercy killing, or the “right to die.” But what happens when our moral principles are put to the test through an ethical dilemma?

Basically, an ethical dilemma is facing a decision that, in making that decision, violates a moral principle in order to follow another one. Either decision will mean violating one of your moral principles. 

An ethical dilemma is facing a decision that, in making that decision, violates a moral principle in order to follow another one

A simple and often used example of a moral dilemma is this: You are on a ship that is sinking, and you must get into a lifeboat. That lifeboat can only hold 10 people without sinking, and there are 11 of you that need to get into it. Your moral principle is the preservation of life at all costs. How do you determine who does not get into that lifeboat? Or do you put all 11 in the lifeboat which will kill all of you? Any decision you make will compromise your principle of preserving life at all costs. 

If you are assigned an ethical dilemma essay, chances are you are given a question or a prompt for that essay.

Sample Ethical Dilemma Essay

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Ethical Dilemma Essay Topics

Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma? Write a personal ethical dilemma essay about one such dilemma and how you handled it. It will be in the first person and will not have to follow the formal writing rules of academic writing.

Here are several potential topics of an ethical dilemma essay. You will note that most provide scenarios in which a person will have to make a decision.

Best ethical dilemma essay topics:

  1. You are a nurse who is committed to providing the best possible care according to the protocols that have been established. You have a patient who is dying. He is in extreme pain. You are charged with administering pain medication on a set schedule, but the patient remains in extreme pain and is asking for more pain medication on a shorter schedule. Do you follow your moral principle of relieving pain or the protocols that have been established?
  2. You are the spouse of a woman who has gone into labor. There are complications. The doctor has informed you that you must make a decision to save the life or your wife or your as yet unborn child. What is your decision-making process, and how does either decision compromise your moral principles of the sanctity of life? Do you abort the child and condemn it to death or do you preserve the life of your wife?
  3. You have witnessed your best friend cheating on an exam. Do you let loyalty to your friend prevail and not report this, or do you abide by your sense of what is right and report the incident to your instructor?
  4. You are an animal rights advocate, believing that all life is sacred. A biological research company is conducting research using animals as subjects. The goal of this research is to eliminate a horrible disease that is afflicting many people all over the world., but animals will suffer even die, in the process. Can you reconcile your advocacy of animal rights with the greater good of saving human lives?
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How to Write an Ethical Dilemma Essay

While your essay will follow the standard format – introduction, body, and conclusion – it may be of different types. You may be writing a narrative of personal experience; you may be writing a more academic piece on an ethical dilemma in a conceptual way; you may be writing an argumentative piece on a specific ethical dilemma. And some of these types of essays may require some research.

Once you have completed your mind map, and consolidated the items into specific points that you want to make, you are ready to craft at least a rough outline of the body paragraphs you will compose.

Develop your thesis statement based upon your points. What is it that you are trying to “prove” to your audience? What do you want your reader to take away from this essay? Your answer to these questions will help you to form your thesis statement.

Write your body paragraphs first. These must be well-formed, with topic sentences and lots of detail to support them. 

One the body paragraphs are constructed, you are ready to craft your introduction – a part of your essay that will introduce the topic and provide your thesis for the essay. Work to create a “hook” for your reader – something that will pique their interest and motivate them to read on. This might be a startling statistic, a quote from a famous person, or a short anecdote to which they can relate. 

Carefully think about your conclusion. You will want to re-state your thesis, of course, but you also may need to encourage those who are dealing with moral dilemmas, as they struggle with their own.

Ethical Dilemma Essay Examples

There are plenty of ethical dilemma essay examples out there on the web. And they will give you great ideas about structure and format. But understand this: your essay must be uniquely yours. You must insert your own style, your own ideas, your own style into your essay, or it won’t be compelling or engaging to your reader. Take the ideas; take the points. But make the essay yours alone.

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