The following are examples of ethical dilemmas confronting social workers. Answers are difficult because there are no perfect solutions. What would you do if you were a social worker in each of the following situations?

Complete and submit a half- to one-page response for each scenario.

Scenario A

Evita was a hospital social worker called in to talk with parents who had just brought their 6-week-old infant Eric, the youngest of their three children, to the emergency room. Eric, whose skin had turned blue and who was not breathing, was placed on a respirator in intensive care for 3 days. After that time, the medical staff determined that he was brain-dead, and the parents Bill and Brenda, sorrowfully gave their permission to “pull the plug.”

Evita had the opportunity to speak with Bill and Brenda as they waited steadfastly by Eric’s bedside hoping that he would revive. She discovered that Bill had been babysitting Eric while Brenda ran some errands. Eric had been sleeping on the bed when Bill lay down to take a nap next to him. Apparently Bill had fallen asleep and rolled over on Eric, accidentally smothering him. Evita thought it was odd that Bill had not awakened when Eric, an active baby who was large for his age, must have been struggling desperately for breath. Bill admitted that he had a couple of beers prior to his nap, but he insisted that he was not drunk.

Tests revealed that Eric displayed no sign of injuries or other suspicious symptoms. The physician in charge of Eric was unaware of the story’s details. Therefore, she determined that Eric must have died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which she planned to cite as the cause of death. SIDS is “death from cessation of breathing in a seemingly healthy infant, almost always during sleep” (Nichols, 1999, p. 1305).

Evita knew Eric’s death was not due to SIDS. Yet informing the overseeing physicians about what really happened would probably do little good. Bill and Brenda were filled with sorrow and blamed themselves for the tragedy.

Critical Thinking Questions