In the Movie "The China Syndrome"   We call something a “moral dilemma” when there are strong arguments in favor of making different– sometimes radically different – choices. For an...

In the Movie "The China Syndrome"  

We call something a “moral dilemma” when there are strong arguments in favor of making different– sometimes radically different – choices. For an individual employee, this reaches its most intense form when faced with the choice to “blow the whistle” on immoral or illegal conduct at the workplace.

When is a person justified/morally obligated in blowing the whistle?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With situational ethics and the blurring of the lines between truth and falsity in contemporary society, moral dilemmas, unfortunately, are often altered into decisions regarding what is politically exigent or financially expedient. However, when the very livelihoods or the lives of people will be gravely and irreparably harmed, it seems justifiable for a person to "blow the whistle." 

One example of egregious misrepresentation and harm to people is the scandal of Enron, an American energy company that was based in Houston, Texas. This company hid billions of dollars of debt in failed deals and projects through various accounting loopholes and falsified financial reporting; nevertheless, the company continued to have its employees invest in its stocks although they were worthless.  Obviously, people in the accounting department of this company knew of the deception to the employees; so, in order to save these employees from losing thousands of dollars, one of them could have "blown the whistle" and acted in an ethical manner. Months before the scandal was exposed, however, Sharon Watkins did write an internal memo to Enron CEO Kenneth Lay about accounting irregularities, but no actions were taken by Lay. Perhaps, then, she should have taken her information to another level. 

Another example of failure to consider the issue of fairness to those concerned is that of the Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, a Ponzi scheme that destroyed the lives of millions of people. Certainly, if someone knew what was going on with Madoff's schemes, it would seem right that this person should have taken all the steps to expose the illegalities. 

Perhaps, one should ask, "What is for the greater good?" or "What should be done in all fairness?" when considering being a whistleblower. If the greater reward is for a person's own notoriety or fame, then, reconsideration should be given to whistleblowing. If the national security of the country in which one is a resident will be greatly compromised, a person should give careful deliberation to the situation, weighing the issues before whistleblowing. In other words, "Will the whistleblowing cause more damage than the irregularity that is occurring?" may be the question that people can ask themselves rationally while searching within their consciences. 

Such dilemmas are usually complex, for they force the person making the decision to weigh the benefits that various business decisions impart on individuals (including him or herself) and groups with the negative repercussions that those same decisions usually have on other individuals or groups. LaRue Hosmer, a business ethics expert who teaches at the University of Michigan, observed that reaching a "right" or "just" conclusion when faced with moral problems can be a bewildering and vexing proposition.

Because the discussion of business ethics has become a subjective discussion in the modern and global world since there are different concepts of ethical behavior, shaped by environment, religious upbringing, and cultural traditions, people find themselves in "moral dilemmas" that only they can resolve within their own consciences.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the film concludes with the idea that when public safety is threatened, a person is morally justified and obligated in blowing the whistle.  Godell was alarmed at the condition of the nuclear power plant.  However, he felt the need to do something in terms of blowing the whistle when it became clear that his superiors simply did not care about the risks being taken.  When the management of the plant seeks to silence the truth through intimidation and discrediting what is being said, it is evident that public safety is not one of their primary concerns.  

It is with this in mind that the film concludes that individuals have an obligation to blow the whistle on such a condition. The moral dilemma of remaining loyal to the organization and speaking out in the name of public safety is something that the film sees as only resolved when the individual choose the latter.  Allegiance to the organization is secondary to the transcendent nature of public safety.  It is here in which the film concludes that individuals have a moral obligation to blow the whistle and notify the public of the dangers that those in the position of power wish to keep silent.