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BG/CH 4901 Engineers & Society 2nd Project (50 Marks)

[The tutor will assign the questions to the teams in Week 4]

1) Following is an abstract of an article in the Straits Times of 25 March 2009: Mrs. Angelika Belecchiu, 57, an advocate of euthanasia, died on Monday. The Australian, who suffered from debilitating bone cancer, ended her life by taking Nembutal, a barbiturate used to put down pets. She died in a motel in a suburb of Melbourne. Pro-euthanasia group, Exit International released a handwritten note she left behind. In it, she described her worsening condition and how it has impaired her ability to perform basic functions. She would have liked to have her family by her side in her final moments but needed to protect them from potential police action. She wrote: We humans are not humane to our own species. If I was an animal, it would be cruel and against the law to allow me to continue my life at that level. In Singapore, like Australia, assisting a suicide is a serious crime and carries severe penalties, including a mandatory jail term. Drawing upon your understanding of the fundamentals of the ethics, critically evaluate the pros and cons of euthanasia. Should euthanasia be legalised in Singapore? 2) A team of biomedical engineers and computer scientists developed a system for identifying people from a distance of up to 200 metres. A short tube attached to a sophisticated receiver and computer, and aimed at a persons head, reads the individuals unique pattern of brain waves when standard words are spoken. The team patents the invention and forms a company to manufacture and sell it. The device is an immediate success within the banking industry. It is used to secretly verify the identity of customers at tellers windows. The scientists and engineers, however, reject personal responsibility for such uses of the device without customer notification or consent. They contend that the companies that buy the product are responsible for its use. They also refuse to be involved in notifying the public about the products availability and the way it is being used. Does employing the device without customer awareness violate the right to privacy or to informed consent? Do the engineers and scientists have a moral obligation to market the product with suggested guidelines for its ethical use? Should they be involved in public discussions about permissible ways of using it? Support your views with appropriate concepts of engineering ethics.

3) The majority of employers have adopted mandatory random drug testing on their employees, arguing that the enormous damage caused by the pervasive use of drugs in our society carries over into the workplace. Typically the tests involve taking urine or blood samples under close observation, thereby raising questions about personal privacy as well as privacy issues about drug usage away from the workplace that is revealed by the tests. Present and defend your view concerning mandatory drug tests at the workplace. In your answer, take account of the argument set forth by Joseph R. DesJardins and Ronald Duska that, except where safety is a clear and present danger (as in the work of pilots, police, and military), such tests are unjustified. They contend that employers have a right to the level of performance for which they pay employees, a level typically specified in contracts and job descriptions. When a particular employee fails to meet the level of performance, then employers will take appropriate disciplinary action based on observable behaviour. Either way, it is employee performance that is relevant in evaluating employees, not drug usage per se.

4) Can utilitarianism provide a moral justification for engineers who work for tobacco companies, for example, in designing cigarette-making machinery? In your answer, take account of the following facts (and others you may be aware of). Cigarettes kill more than 400,000 Americans each year, which is more than the combined deaths caused by alcohol and drug abuse, car accidents, homicide, suicide, and AIDS. Cigarette companies do much good by providing jobs (Philip Morris employs more than 15,000 people worldwide), through taxes (Philip Morris pays over $4 billion in a typical year), and through philanthropy. Most new users of cigarettes in the United States are teenagers (under 18). There is disagreement over just how addictive cigarettes are, but adults have some choice in deciding whether to continue using them, and may choose to do so for reasons beyond the addictive potential of nicotine. Substantiate your view with your understanding of the principles of morality and utilitarianism. 5) The following case study was written by Benard Williams (1929 2003). George, who has just obtained his PhD in Chemistry, finds it extremely difficult to get a job. He is not robust in health, which cuts down the number of jobs he might be able to do satisfactorily. His wife has to work to support them, which causes a great deal of strain, since they have small children and there are severe problems in looking after them. The results of all this, especially on the children, are damaging. An older chemist, who knows about

this situation, says that he can get George a decently paying job in a certain laboratory, which pursues research into chemical and biological warfare. Is there an issue of moral dilemma in the case? Is it possible for George to take the job and compartmentalise so as to separate his work from his moral principles? Given the circumstances, what should George do, and why? 6) For each of the following cases, first discuss what morality requires and then what self-interest requires, followed with answers to the question at the end of each case. a) Bill, a process engineer, learns from a former classmate who is now a regional compliance officer with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that there will be an unannounced inspection of Bills plant. Bill believes that unsafe practices are often tolerated in the plant, especially in the holding of toxic chemicals. Although there have been small spills, no serious accidents have occurred in the plant during the past few years. What should Bill do? On a midnight shift, a botched solution of sodium cyanide, a reactant in an organic synthesis, is temporarily stored in drums for reprocessing. Two weeks later, the day shift supervisor cannot find the drums. Roy, the plant manager, finds out that the solution has been illegally dumped into the sanitary sewer. He severely disciplines the night shift supervisor. Upon making discreet inquiries, he finds out that no apparent harm has resulted from the dumping. Should Roy inform government authorities, as is required by law in this kind of situation?


7) A project leader working for a large retail business was assigned the task of developing a customer billing and credit system. The budget assigned for the project appeared at first to be adequate. Yet by the time the system was half completed it was clear the funds were not enough. The project leader asked for more money, but the request was denied. He fully informed management of the serious problems that were likely to occur if he had to stay within the original budget. He would be forced to omit several important program functions for convenience and safety: for example, efficient detection and correction mechanisms for errors, automatic handling and reporting of special customer exceptions, and audit controls. Management insisted that these functions could be added after the more minimal system was produced and installed in stores. Working under direct orders, the project leader completed the minimal system, only to find worst fears realised after it was installed. Numerous customers were given incorrect billings or ones they could not understand. It was easy for retail salespersons to take advantage of the system to steal from the company, and several did so. Within a year the

companys profits and business were beginning to drop. This led to middlelevel management changes, and the project leader found himself blamed for designing an inadequate system. Did the project leader have an obligation either to clients or to the company to act differently than he did? How might he have acted differently and what moral frameworks might be applicable here? 8) Company A solicits competitive quotations on the design and construction of a chemical plant facility. All the bidders are required to furnish a processing scheme for the manufacture of the final products. The process generally is one which has been in common use for several years. All of the quotations are similar in most respects from the standpoint of technology. Contractor X submits the highest-price quotation. He includes in his proposal, however, a unique approach to a portion of the processing scheme. Yields are indicated to be better than current practice, and quality improvement is apparent. A quick laboratory check indicates that the innovation is practicable. Company A then calls on Contractor Z, the lowest bidder, and asks him to evaluate and bid on an alternate scheme to that conceived by Contractor X. Contractor Z is not told the source of alternative design. Company A has not made any representation in its quotation request that replies will be held in confidence. Are the actions of Company A morally permissible? Defend your view with a robust evaluation of the case based on the principles of ethics. 9) The moving of hazardous technologies, such as the manufacture of asbestos, to less-developed countries is motivated in part by cheaper labour costs, but another factor is that workers are willing to take greater risks. Do you agree with the view that taking advantage of this willingness need not be unjust exploitation if several conditions are met, such as: (1) workers are informed of the risks; (2) they are paid more for taking the risks; (3) the company takes some steps to lower the risks, even if not to the level acceptable for the workers? Give reasons for your agreement or disagreement. Support your answer with a robust evaluation based on the principle of ethics in engineering.