Outdoor Education Ethical Dilemmas
Example Ethical Dilemma Scenario
Presented by students in "Outdoor Education Philosophy & Methods", Fall, 2002, University of New Hampshire; Instructor: James Neill

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Group vs. Individual Benefit:
Evacuation of 11 year old boy with earache vs. Continuing the Program

 

 
 

Group vs. Individual Benefit:
Evacuation of 11 year old boy with earache vs. Continuing the Program

by Ian Hendrick, Ladd Raine, Aaron Marquis and Rebecca Stone

Introduction: Our group, presented the class with an ethical dilemma focusing on group vs. individual benefit.  Our goal was to help the class understand that ethics, the study of what is morally right or wrong, is far from a black and white matter.  We decided to focus on the difference between the rights of the individual versus the rights of the group as they might present themselves in the context of Outdoor Education.

The Scenario:  We are on a four day outing which is to involve extensive paddling (in relatively calm water), building shelter, building fire, and other fairly basic technical skills.  This trip's main purposes are recreation and adventure.  The group is made up of six 11 and 12 year old boys and one leader.  The leader is trained in Basic First Aid and survival skills.  This is the first outing of this kind for most of the boys.  Day One: 2PM:  We've paddled six miles to our camp.  One boy has been whining and irritating the group all day and, as we begin to build our shelter, he becomes hysterical, complaining of a bad earache.

The Choices:

A. Bring the whole crew back the six miles, find a house, call base camp, get the kid out of there, and paddle back to go on with the weekend.

B. Wait until morning to see if it gets worse and then decide what to do.

C. Bring everyone back and end the trip.

We asked the class to split themselves into groups according to what they would do. 

Group's Comments: We really felt like it went well.  We engaged in some good dialogue about the rights of the group and the individual.  Our goal was not to convince people of what was right or wrong, just to get them thinking about situations that they might encounter as leaders and we think that we achieved that goal.  We anticipated a fairly even split between A and B but were surprised by everyone going with B.  Even after they were challenged by our group, they all chose to stay until morning.  Maybe make the earache into something a bit more serious.

Instructor's Comments: This scenario illustrated a problem in presenting the group vs. individual ethical issue in the context of a medical issue.  It was clear to the group (many of whom were currently involved in emergency medical training and/or who had led trips) that the ear-ache symptoms were too minor and the distance/time/effort to help too great to warrant doing much other than option B, continuing with the trip and monitoring the boy's earache.  The group did a reasonably good job of altering the scenario and information as the discussion progressed in order to focus attention back onto the 'should we continue for the group' or 'should we change the group experience in order to cater to the needs of an individual' issue. 

Instructor's Recommendations:
Scenario: I would recommend that for introductory group vs. individual scenarios to avoid such medical contexts; instead simply have competing interests of a group vs. individual in a programmatic sense, e.g., one group member is very slow at walking, others are very fast.  The question is in such a case, where there are no other competing issues, what should be done?  Assume that its not appropriate to split the group (e.g, for safety reasons, such as there is only one intstructor).  Or Hunt's example, I think, is whether a weaker member should be challenged to climb a summit which the rest of the group are hankering to do and may well be a valuable culminating challenge for him.  These are more typical kinds of scenarios than medical group vs. individual because increasingly nowadays, medical decisions are made as just that - medical decisions - based on clear medical criteria primarily.  This is not to say that group vs. individual ethical issues do not interact with the medical decision, but just that at an introductory level, this may be too complex as an introductory ethical scenario. 
Presentation: The group described the scenario.  To make ethical scenarios work more powerfully and to enhance the experiential nature of the training for both presenters and participants, I definitely recommend dramatization of the scenario.  In doing so, I would recommend that greater character development of the individual and the group dynamics.  In this way these more subtle characteristics can be incorporated into trainees' decision making and discussion based on the scenario.