An Ethical Decision-Making Model

(Source: Josephson Institute of Ethics. “Five Steps of Principled Reasoning.” 1999.)

· Clarify.

  1. Determine precisely what must be decided.
  2. Formulate and devise the full range of alternatives.
  3. Eliminate patently impractical, illegal and improper alternatives.
  4. Force yourself to develop at least three ethically justifiable options.
  5. Examine each option to determine which ethical principles and values are involved.

· Evaluate.

  1. If any of the options requires the sacrifice of any ethical principle, evaluate the facts and assumptions carefully.
  2. Distinguish solid facts from beliefs, desires, theories, suppositions, unsupported conclusions, opinions, and rationalizations.
  3. Consider the credibility of sources, especially when they are self-interested, ideological or biased.
  4. With regard to each alternative, carefully consider the benefits, burdens and risks to each stakeholder.

· Decide.

  1. Make a judgment about what is not true and what consequences are most likely to occur.
  2. Evaluate the viable alternatives according to personal conscience.
  3. Prioritize the values so that you can choose which values to advance and which to subordinate.
  4. Determine who will be helped the most and harmed the least.
  5. Consider the worst case scenario.
  6. Consider whether ethically questionable conduct can be avoided by changing goals or methods, or by getting consent.
  7. Apply three “ethics guides.”
    • Are you treating others as you would want to be treated?
    • Would you be comfortable if your reasoning and decision were to be publicized?
    • Would you be comfortable if your children were observing you?

· Implement.

  1. Develop a plan of how to implement the decision.
  2. Maximize the benefits and minimize the costs and risks.

· Monitor and modify.

  1. Monitor the effects of decisions.
  2. Be prepared and willing to revise a plan, or take a different course of action.
  3. Adjust to new information.



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