Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ethical Decision Making

Engineers design products for the general public, to make life better for everyone.  With engineers designing products that everyone has the ability to go out and purchase for themselves, comes a lot responsibility.  If the product we’re designing is a car than we need to make sure it’s safe before putting it on the market.  The car is a remarkable machine but it can also take human life if not used properly.  Engineers need to keep that in mind when we design our new products, whatever they may be.  Ethics are about being a good person and using our own moral values to make the right decisions.  Engineers are the people who design things for the world; if we are unethical in our decision making it can cause catastrophic events.  Back to the topic of automobiles, the infamous Ford Pinto case is an excellent example of a case where the ethical decision wasn’t made and it cost innocent humans to lose their life.  The Ford Pinto was one of the more popular cars when it first came on the market, what people didn’t know was that it was a death trap.  The engineers who designed the car put the fuel tank towards the rear of the car thinking it would not be a safety threat.  They began manufacturing the Pinto cars but they didn’t realize that the gas tank was a serious issue until after they had shipped their product out to be sold.  They discovered the issue with the gas tank in the back of the car; if the car was rear ended the car would ignite and explode.  Recalling all of those cars and fixing them would have cost Ford a fortune and they decided that paying out some lawsuits would be less than if they recalled the car.  The inevitable eventually happened, there were a group of teenagers driving their Ford Pinto on a highway and got rear ended.  Upon impact the gas tank caused the car to catch fire and explode burning everyone in the car alive.  Young lives were lost because the people responsible for making the car decided that money was more important than the safety of their customers.  Ford let their valued customers drive off in a death trap they designed and knew had a serious defect, all to save the company money.  This is considered one of the biggest unethical engineering decisions in history.  The story of the Pinto shows that as engineers we take on a responsibility to make sure we design things with the safety of the user in mind and if we fail to do that the consequences can be the loss of human life.  Ethics is about not looking out just for yourself but being concerned with your decisions and how they affect others around you.  You can’t put a price on human life.  No amount of money can bring a parent dead child back.  Human life and safety needs to be the most important part of any engineering design, cost comes second.


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