Moral dilemmas occur when one encounters a conflicting circumstance and no matter the kind of action or resolution he/she takes, the consequences end up violating ethics. Therefore, moral dilemmas are very challenging and complicated because they force people to make hard choices that lead to the violation of ethics and sacrifice.
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In the case study, Bubba Hart is experiencing a moral dilemma because his companion, Stella is making exuberant barking at the neighborhood making people to complain. His inability to silence Stella coupled with the constant complaints from people in the neighborhood makes his job unbearable.
Making the situation worse, the coop board decides that if Bubba cannot control the barking of Stella, then either of them can go. The ruling troubles Bubba because he has options that seem impossible for him to achieve.
The first option would be to let Stella go and remain alone, the second would be to lose his job and leave Stella, the third would be to shift to another neighborhood, and the fourth would be to euthanize or silence Stella. Ultimately, based on the case study, the moral dilemma narrows down to whether or not debarking is morally acceptable.
Based on the utilitarian ethical theory, silencing Stella is morally acceptable because it enhances happiness for the greatest number of people. Since exuberant barking of Stella in the neighborhood disturbs many people, debarking is the appropriate measure according to the utilitarian perspective.
On utilitarianism as an ethical theory, West posits that, “the production of happiness and reduction of unhappiness should be the standard by which actions are judged right or wrong and by which the rules of morality, laws, public policies, and social institutions are to be critically evaluated” (9).
In the case study, people living in the neighborhood where Stella wanders while barking have been complaining about disturbing her barking behavior. Ethical consideration from utilitarian perspective judges the case study scenario that, it is better to eliminate Stella in the neighborhood than to allow many people to endure the barking nuisance. Hence, according to the utilitarian ethical theory, it is probable that Stella undergoes debarking than for the whole neighborhood to suffer.
The barking behavior of Stella also disturbs Bubba, the security guard who takes care of the neighborhood. Since people believe that Bubba is responsible for the exuberant barking behavior of Stella, they direct their complaints to him and thus making his work quite unbearable.
Therefore, Stella’s barking behavior and people’s complaints put Bubba in dilemma as he wonders on how to resolve the problem. The coop board also rules out using utilitarian approach that it is better for Bubba or Stella to go away than the entire neighborhood to suffer due to uncontrolled barking of Stella.
According to Mill, “the creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the greatest happiness principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (10).
Therefore, the action of debarking Stella results into greatest happiness in the neighborhood as compared to state where veterinary medical ethics take precedence. Utilitarian approach of ethics cannot consider veterinary medical ethics, which neglects the needs of the whole neighborhood where many people live.
Hence, according to the utilitarian approach to the ethical dilemma, debarking of Stella is morally acceptable for the whole neighborhood to be free of disturbance.
Mill, Stuart. Utilitarianism. Ontario: Batoche Books, 2001.
West, Henry. An introduction to Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2004.