Ethics Essay


According to the 5 P’s of ethics, a “Code of Ethics” serves to describe expectations and to assist with decision making. In my past internships I have been asked to sign a code of ethics specific to the company and I feel as though the purpose of the code of ethics varied between companies. When I interned with Amazon, the code of ethics I received was more focused on reinforcing company values and expectations of me to follow with these values. When I read the code of ethics for National Instruments, it felt more like a guideline on how I should respond to certain situations. It seems clear to me the purpose of a code of ethics, but it is interesting to consider why some companies and organization feel the necessity to have one and, in some cases, sign and agree to follow it. Ethics are a subjective. Most of us have learned and been taught our own code of ethics that may not necessarily be the same as others. Our own personal code of ethics may even conflict with a company or organization’s ethics. I believe that companies have people sign their code of ethics mainly to make clear what their expectations are for their employees and to limit any unwanted behavior from said employees that could (without the code of ethics) be unclear and occur because the employee “didn’t know” it was wrong.

When I am faced with an ethical situation, I try to consider multiple sides of the situation. I often use the “golden rule” to help guide my decisions. I use my own personal code of ethics to help shape my decisions and use the advice of others as well as the code of ethics of others to advise me.

My mentor and I reviewed a few case studies and chose to discuss the case study on the investigation of the Therac-25 Accidents. The Therac-25 was a computerized radiation therapy machine that was responsible for massively overdosing patients on multiple occasions between June 1984 and January 1987, causing many severe injuries and deaths. The Therac-25 was a successor to the Therac-20 which employed protective circuits and mechanical interlocks to protect against overdose, while the Therac-25 relied heavily on software. The case study mentions that the risk assessments on the software were unrealistic and not through enough. The follow through on the accident reports were also unacceptable.

After I read the documents on ethics and the case study of Therac-25, I was quick to attribute the blame to the software designers and the people who designed the risk assessments. Their poor design choices, as the case study claims, was the cause the the majority of the accidents. After discussing this case study with my mentor, however, I came to realize that I was not looking at the bigger picture. My mentor explained how software design could always be “better,” but there is usually some resource constraint, such as time or money, that becomes the tradeoff. His opinion was that the software designer’s responsibility to make the best software, given the current technology and the resource constraints given to him. After further discussion of the case study, we came to the conclusion that there was little information in the case study to even determine if there was an ethical dilemma.

I feel that the most relevant virtue to the case study was responsibility, followed by integrity and honesty. I feel that one of the main issues with the Thorac-25 accidents was not only the unsafe design, but also the response to the accidents. The response to the accidents was simply sloppy and unacceptable, given that the Thorac-25 was radiation therapy machine and thus there were potentially lives on the line. Given that the Thorac-25 caused accidents on several occasions and the cause of the accidents were unclear and attributed to unspecific “mechanical faults,” taking the Thorac-25 “out of service” and falling back on the Thorac-20 design , with mechanical locks, may have been a viable option. Responsibility comes into play because of the poor managerial decisions that allowed things such as unreasonably low risk assessments to be accepted. And what seemed to be unqualified, or inexperienced, software engineers implementing the design. When the manufacturer could not reproduce the condition and concluded that it was a hardware fault, it implemented a solution based on that assumption and declared that the system was several orders of magnitude safer. I feel that such a bold statement, given that the conditions could not even be reduces and thus the problem was unclear, such as statement seems dishonest . The lack of thoroughness in the accident response also seemed like poor integrity, as such a safety-critical device needs thorough testing.

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