Month: August 2010

Is voluntary euthanasia an absolute or relative moral question?

Relative morality refers to an ethical code that is dependent upon the situation in question and peoples varied beliefs and cultures. It allows maxims that do not have to be made universally true, unlike those within absolute morality. Whilst ethical theories such as Natural Law and most Christian Ethics (and other religions derived from Judaism) are often absolute, with universal laws, Situation Ethics, and in particular Act Utilitarianism, tend more towards the relative end of the scale.

Act Utilitarianism is used to judge every situation individually and without regards to the wider view of community. Within this premise the path of action that would bring about the greatest good to the most number of people in that specific situation would be followed -allowing every action to be judged within its own circumstances and merits and thus creating a flexible ethical theory for how to deal with everyday situations.

Situation Ethics looks at what is the most loving thing to do in any given situation. It looks to the teachings of Jesus to decide what actions must be taken and states that there is no absolute moral law save for love. This love is all-deciding and is always the right course of action even if this goes against scripture or the specific laws of a culture or country. Every situation is also treated separately so that the reason of love can be applied individually.

If we apply these general rules to a situation such as voluntary euthanasia we can see how different conclusions can be drawn.

The term voluntary euthanasia refers to a form of assisted suicide where an individual asks for assistance in ending their own life, for example, when their quality of life has fallen so low (or is predicted to decline) they see death as a better option that continuing to live, but perhaps lack the physical means to perform the act themselves. They may choose instead to ask for help from a doctor or a family member. This is illegal in this country (the UK) but permitted under strict criteria in places such as Switzerland and the Netherlands. This can mean that people will travel abroad to seek help for an act that is against the law here.
Someone following Act Utilitarianism (or Situation Ethics) will look at each individual case and decide based on those key factors present within the specific case what the best course of action is to take. An Act Utilitarian will be seeking to bring about the most utility for the greatest number, so will not only take into account the happiness of the patient but also everyone else involved, including family members, friends and the doctors and other medical staff concerned. Taking this into account, the patients themselves are of little importance in the decision when following Act Utilitarianism, which is in every case, is concerned with the majority as opposed to the minority standpoint.

If, for example, a young mother with a family decided that she wished for assistance to end her life and her suffering after being diagnosed with cancer, it is very unlikely that an Act Utilitarian would permit this. Not only would her family suffer greatly in her sudden passing, but it would also put a strain on the doctors who would have to perform the euthanasia – perhaps going outside the law to perform the act. However, if it were a terminally ill old man it is likely that he would be allowed to die, as he would have fewer family members and this death would be less against the norms of nature due to his age. The hospital budget, too, would be being forced to spend a great deal on his health care – money that could help far more people if put to a better use, as well as saving medical resources for others.
Someone taking a Situation Ethics perspective will already believe that all life is sacred and a gift from God. Murder will be considered wrong in most situations, but again if it can be shown as the most loving thing to do then that is finally decided as the right decision, regardless of legality. If a patient then was in so much pain that they no longer wanted to live, the most loving thing to do would (most likely) be to allow them to die a quick and painless death rather than continue on in suffering. Similarly to utilitarianism, the views of others involved will also be taken into account, though there is much less chance of a ‘tyranny of the majority’ circumstance taking place. Overall then whereas Act Utilitarianism and Situational Ethics are both case based the focus differs in where the utility lies whether for the individual or in the majority as in Act Utilitarianism.

Does Outsourcing Create or Destroy Jobs

Outsourcing is it creating or destroying jobs in the US?

I was reading in the outsourcing trade press this week about the political debate in the US about job losses in the outsourcing market. The debate centres around one of the most vexing questions in the outsourcing market as to whether outsourcing, or more specifically off-shoring, creates or destroys jobs in the outsourcing home country. This furore is particularly felt in the US where a political backlash threatens to develop that may result in government measures to remove some or all of the advantages of outsourcing – such as denial of tax relief on expenses as one example.

The problem is particularly acute if we consider off-shoring where the jobs in the home country are transferred to a receiving country such as India. And as a result the jobs disappear in the host country and those people in the US are let go. So what is the truth in all this and what factors are at play when we consider work restructuring due to outsourcing?

There have been several attempts to justify job losses by recourse to ideas that outsourcing actually creates more jobs than are lost – ergo we threaten this process by any talk of protectionist actions. Although there is no evidence base for any of these ideas they are starting to gain traction as the industry fights back to try and extinguish any legislative activity that may restrict their current free rein.

The arguments seem to boil down to three main points:

  • The savings yielded by outsourcing leads to higher investment in the business and as a result further job opportunities are created.
  • The inward investment in the offshore country increases their standard of living and the demand for American goods and services which leads to increases employment in the US.
  • Any form of protectionism (or legal protection) acts to increase employment expenses and thus to reduce employment opportunities.

Is there anything in these points?

The main problem with the first one is the assumption that outsourcing yields value at anything like 50% as claimed by some writers that can be invested per se. As an example I attended a recent conference in London where it was revealed (from a large scale European survey) that although around 60% of outsourcing organisations claimed some financial savings of these only around a quarter had any idea how this was measured – the rest had no way of assessing success and had no clue where or if this was done in their organisation. This means only15% of organisations can state that they have achieved any savings with any surety. Other researchers and consultancies have also shown that getting any benefit from outsourcing is proving to be a surprising intractable nut to crack – so where’s the money coming from for this investment?

Secondly all of the main offshore countries are notoriously closed as far as inward business is concerned – we have been hearing for years these potential advantages in the UK but we have yet to make any real impression in business terms in the very protected markets in Asia. In the UK we send unemployed princes on foreign trade missions that seem to yield very little of substance and just involve giving away our technology at knock down prices. American trade missions have had little more success and you don’t have princes with time on their hands! Furthermore, the idea that Indian sweat shop workers are queuing to buy American high tech goods is fanciful at least.

Lastly employment law and protectionism are stated to be one of the core reasons preventing job creation. Any restriction on the ability of businesses to move employment from one place to another or to offer any protection as far as workplace rights or working practices is seen as an anathema and opposed by recourse to a ‘jobs being destroyed’ rhetoric. From this perspective outsourcing is seen as an efficiency mechanism acting on employment cost – and the target (of the outsource) depends entirely on where the cost advantages lies at a point in time whether in the US or not. Thus if used correctly outsourcing can allow cost advantage to be maintained over time by switching between suppliers. It is in affect a re-working of the investment idea where the removal of all restrictions on organisations to do what they want can facilitate job creation.

My take on this is that job losses are inevitable in outsourcing but the problem is it is a particular type of loss that occurs and is felt differently across society. It is the entry level IT jobs, lower skilled activities, voice services or manual production tasks that are going offshore – and they are not being replaced like for like. What this means is that specific sectors of our society are being affected and their ability to make a living stopped by outsourcing – it is their jobs that are going offshore. Jobs that used to be for high school graduates or those less successful in education or could only work part-time are going and are not being replaced. So our fundamental question is are we happy with this – is it justice?

It strikes me that the arguments for or against employment losses misses out on another fundamental aspect – the experience of outsourcing of those who go through it. Loss of identity, stress, and feelings of powerlessness occur all to frequently when we carry out an outsource badly. One of the key points about this type of employment structuring is it acts to move workers from the primary sector to the secondary sector. In the secondary service sector employment tends to be fragmented, short term with wages set by the market and overall is much less secure. All this acts to make the experience of work much more instrumental and tightly controlled and denies people any of the positive aspects of work.

We must do better than this. People do want to do a good job, be loyal, and serve customers well – and be rewarded and treated fairly for doing so. Outsourcing is unstoppable but it is controllable for the better good of our society.