Sunday, April 8, 2012

Evaluating Ethical Decision-Making Models

The two models chosen for evaluative purposes include Rest's (1994, as cited in Cottone & Claus, 2000) version of his original model that includes the four components: moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation, and moral character. Rest believed that each of these components were part of ethical decision making, and if the decision maker was deficient in any one component, the end result of moral action would be altered. Additionally, Rest perceived these components not as sequential processing units but as the holistic dimension required of the decision maker. To me this means that Rest believed it important for these components to be inherent abilities in the decision maker. Originally Rest described the process as determining how one's actions will affect others when making the decision at hand; determining the most moral course of action; deciding whether to uphold moral ideals in the situation at hand; and then actually doing what one thinks one should do.

Expanding on each of these components in analysis would include first, defining moral sensitivity. Keyes, (1984) believed morality is about "what sort of person one ought to be" (p. 3). Moral judgment is the evaluation of ideas, actions, or characteristics as good or bad, relative to an original determined measurement. Moral motivation is a fundamental judgment about right and wrong that directs us to act in accordance with these defined judgments. Moral character is most likely universally considered a measurement of moral qualities, or the ability to make moral judgments consistently in a variety of situations.

This model is comprehensive and uses valid and measurable aspects of ethical decision making. I also like Rest's inclusion of whether the decision maker chooses to fulfill his or her moral ideals. This is a step that seems to be left out of other models. Like most models, this one relies on human characteristics which are often the weakest links in ethical decision making. Secondly, this model does not account for any sense of "intuition" or using one's gut feeling to make an ethical decision.

I also found Hill, Glaser, and Harden's (1995) feministic model more aligned with my personal beliefs that includes the intuitive feel of the proposed solution (Cottone & Claus, 2000). Each step of this model involves the consideration of emotion as well as rational and evaluative processes, but always in concert with a corresponding emotional and intuitive considerations. I like this model because there is a significant amount of gray area when determining in ethical decision making. As such, models can only act as guidelines, not as an answer sheet to difficult situations.

Although I understand intuitiveness can neither be measured nor scientifically verified, but, in the grayest areas of ethical decision making, many would agree that ultimately the final determination must be made with going with one's gut, so to speak. According to Cottone and Claus (2000), the integration of the intuitive factor into ethical decision making "improves the decision-making process" (para. 13). Hill, Glaser, and Harden believe "values, beliefs, and factors such as gender, race, class and sexual/affectional preferences of the people involved are assumed to affect the ethical dilemma.

The pros of this model is that it uses the therapist's intuition as part of the decision making. As it is with any human decision, the use of intuition creates a limitation, in that the decision may only be as ethically strong as the decision maker's intuition. The second strength is that it is a more holistic model for ethical decision making in that it accounts for a wider range of human factors in the process. The second limitation could be that this model gives more power to the client. In some cases, and depending on the client's value systems, it could inhibit the counselor's most appropriate choice in the decision.

The bottom line in ethical decision making is that merely embracing ethical models only provides a parameter by which individuals understand, in a rhetorical sense, how to best utilize these models. The most positive outcomes, however, must implement and integrate these models into an intrinsic and core understanding. As new counselors are exposed to the various gray areas of ethical decision making, it is essential not only to understand ethics, but to be ethical. As Rest (1994, as cited in Cottone & Claus, 2000) believed, these models are neither linear aspects nor temporal orders, but must be visceral understandings. From deep understanding comes our ability to make decisions that can be supported by any one of the models of decision making. Ultimately, we cannot make moral judgments yet remain indifferent. There must be a deep and evolving commitment to becoming ethical.


Cottone, R. R., & Claus, R. E. (2000). Ethical decision-making models: A review of the literature. Journal of Counseling & Development, 78(3), 275–283.

Kekes, J. (1984). Moral Sensitivity. Philosophy, 59(227), 3. doi: 10.1017/S003181910005645X

Hill, M., Glaser, K., & Harden, J. (1995). Chapter 2: A feminist model for ethical decision making. (1995). In E. J. Rave & C. C. Larsen (Eds.), Ethical decision making in therapy: Feminist perspectives (pp. 18-37). New York: Guilford Press.

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