15 Ethical Dilemma Examples You See in the Real-World

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In your everyday life, and especially at work, have you faced ethical dilemmas that challenge your personal morals? If so, considering common ethical dilemma examples can go a long way to resolving your own.

You'll learn you must analyze the risks, rely on your convictions, and trust your instincts. Stepping back and removing yourself from the situation can help you gain a perspective that will aid in making your best decisions.

It's also important to be sure you act after thinking the situation through and not before. To help with this, take a look at our article, “7 Ways to Live Consciously in an Unconscious World.”

Drawing on the experience of others may empower you to navigate your struggle and arrive at the best decision.

This process exercises your critical thinking skills and the decisions you make can help you become respected as a person and a professional. Therefore, looking at ways that others have navigated those difficult moral decisions may be an excellent way to help you should you ever face similar circumstances.

In this article, you’ll learn about specific ethical dilemma examples that will help you understand the difficulty of making decisions that go against moral principles… which may make it less troublesome to make a decision when facing your next ethical dilemma.

What Are Ethical Dilemmas?

Ethical dilemmas are all about difficulty in choosing between two courses of action, in which either choice involves disobeying a moral principle.

For instance, if you’re facing an ethical dilemma, it can affect you emotionally as you may struggle between what you consider to be right against what you consider to be necessary for a certain situation.

An ethical dilemma occurs when your moral principles are challenged. Some instances of the moral tenets are honesty, abstaining from and not promoting violence, caring for others, respecting the privacy of others, aiding people in trouble, and not harming others, whether humans or animals.

You may have heard of ethical dilemma examples called moral dilemmas or ethical paradoxes. In some instances, any choice you make is wrong in some sense.

In each ethical dilemma, the options are at odds with each other; they conflict with each other, causing a contradiction or paradox.

There are situations where you might have two choices; if you choose one, it would be impossible to choose the other.

Real-World Ethical Dilemma Examples

Often, the best way to mitigate ethical dilemmas is to learn about and seek understanding with real-world examples. Here are 15 examples of real-world ethical dilemmas we trust you’ll find useful. 

1. Monitoring Teens on Social Media.

Should a teenager using Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok have their social media use monitored? This is an ethical dilemma many parents of teens face as teenagers spend many hours engaging in online activities daily. For some parents, the question may be: Do I trust my child to use social media responsibly or not?

For others, they may be asking themselves: From a safety standpoint as a parent, should I monitor my teenager’s online activities, or are they old enough to use social media responsibly?

Whichever ethical dilemma they are facing, a parent’s fear of cyberbullying and safety for their children is not unfounded. According to 2018 Pew Research, 21% of 13-15-year-olds, 16% of 16-17-year-olds, and 12% of 18-20-year-olds experienced cyberbullying.

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In employing your critical thinking skills you may find that you agree its fine to lie to your boss in certain situations.

While anyone utilizing the Internet risks cyberbullying, teens are ill-equipped to deal with such treatment as their brains are not yet fully developed. Therefore, it is a parent’s duty to protect their child from online attacks.

However, since the close monitoring of a teenager’s activities, online or otherwise, may be construed as a lack of trust toward the teen, it can potentially damage or at least put a strain on the parent-child relationship. Therein lies the ethical dilemma and the choices each parent must make.

One father of two teenaged girls chose to monitor their activities, sharing that, above all, “The devices belong to me and my wife, and we are entitled to see anything and everything on them.”

A good way to build trust with your teens may be to spend time playing games or asking “would you rather” questions; trust will help them know that whether you monitor their online activity, you care.  

2. Ghosting.

This is when you end a relationship by not responding to the other person at all, by just ignoring them, rather than telling them you would like to end the relationship. While ghosting someone is not the nicest of ways to end a relationship, is it morally wrong?

If you believe in kindness, you may struggle as to whether you can live with your decision to ghost someone. Ghosting seems like the easy way out for the one ghosting, but it's hard for the one being ghosted to find closure and move on.

Someone may choose to ghost their soon-to-be ex because they want to avoid conflict. Or maybe they are afraid the other person might lash out and become violent. For whatever reason, facing that person is uncomfortable that they consider ghosting.

If you consider ghosting someone, think about how that could make them feel. Is that really who you are? Getting a fresh and honest perspective may make you think differently if you're considering ghosting someone.

If you've been ghosted, you find some benefit in reading our “55 Survival Quotes to Make You Tough in 2023.”

3. Intentionally Misinterpreting Data.

There are several instances you may find yourself in where you’re tempted to fudge the numbers. Maybe you’re in the corporate world and are tempted or encouraged to share the data in such a way that will cause stockholders to believe their investments are more secure than they are.

Your ethical dilemma may be whether you misinterpret the data and secure your career or share the true numbers and risk losing your job.

An ethical dilemma example of misinterpreting or outright lying about data is the FTX scandal where investors lost billions of dollars on the digital currency platform after being misled  by founder Sam Bankman-Fried. 

4. Selling a Car Without Disclosing All Known Negative Details.

Let's say you're selling your car to upgrade to a newer model. Nothing much is wrong with it, so you fail to disclose the fact that it has trouble starting from time to time; or, that it was involved in an accident.

Should you disclose whatever is wrong with it to potential buyers or do you consider purchasing a used car to be a ‘buyer beware' situation? Uphold your moral standards and make sure you aren’t the subject of someone’s used car sales gone bad story.

5. Cheat on Your Significant Other.

Your relationship has gone south but you're still considered a couple. You meet someone that, well, if you weren't married… But you are; and you stood before an entire congregation of people promising fidelity “til death do us part'.

A few years have passed and you just don't have the same romantic feelings anymore. Whether he's changed or you've changed or you've both changed, you can't quite put your finger on it. Now, you feel like you'd rather get out than stay in.

Since the relationship is rocky, can you justify starting a new relationship? Or, should you stay faithful and risk letting the potential new love of your life get away? Sometimes a person will cheat on their significant other as an act of revenge when they are mad at each other. And sometimes, the decision to cheat ends badly.

If you've made the decision not to cheat, try solidifying your relationship with our advice on relationships. 

6. Should You Lie to a Sick Loved One?

Usually, if someone considers lying, whether they do it or not, it goes against their belief system and in their heart they know that it's wrong. However, whenever the truth would hurt someone you love, it often presents a gray area or a moral dilemma.

There have been instances where family members have either lied or withheld the truth in order to spare the feelings of a sick loved one, particularly in cases of Alzheimer's patients.

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It would be more beneficial to pursue your own path to promotion without detracting from someone else. 

If an Alzheimer's patient asks about a loved one, and that loved one is deceased, finding out about their death all over again can cause them pain. Because of that, some family members will lie to spare their loved one's feelings. Is it ever compassionate to withhold information from your loved one with Alzheimer's?

This may be a dilemma you should discuss with your family members to help make your own personal decision. However, make sure you follow your own moral compass rather than doing what others wish you to do.

7. To Share or Not to Share Political Leanings.

Have you noticed how passionate people are about politics? If you choose to share your political leanings online or in person, you would lose followers, friends, and/or family members.

Some people weigh the options and decide it's not worth it to speak what's on your mind and lose the close contact of others.

Some say it's best to be real, to be authentic, and share any and all beliefs, loud and proud. Before choosing either option, weigh your options. Which choice can you live with? Which one could you not live with?

No matter what you decide, take time to consider the consequences of each choice before firmly making your decision. Then, be prepared to live with those consequences. 

8. Whether to Report an Accident.

If you're in a rush and you pass by and an accident, would you report it? Or would you not, knowing that the next person that passes by most likely would call the authorities?

The moral dilemma would be: risk getting to your meeting late, especially if you have to give an account of what happened to the police; or risk feeling guilty because you chose not to stop and help in a situation and caused the authorities to arrive sooner rather than later or even too late.

If you're struggling about whether you should report an accident as a witness, put yourself in the shoes of those affected by the accident to discover what you should do and how you can help. 

9. To Share or Not to Share Religious Beliefs.

It's been said to never discuss politics or religion. Yet there comes a time in close relationships where the question of whether to share what your beliefs are may come to mind, bringing you face to face with a moral dilemma.

If you know the person you'll be sharing with has beliefs that are different from yours, you may wonder if sharing your beliefs will push them away.

Withholding the information as you grow closer in a relationship may cause several problems: the other person in the relationship may feel you haven't been as open and honest as you should have been, or you may feel conflicted as you want to share but are hesitant to do so.

However, if you feel a kinship with a person on a spiritual level, you may consider sharing your religious views.

If the question of whether you should share your religious views at work arises, you may want to ask yourself why you would consider sharing.

While there are employment laws against discrimination of religion, you need to be careful not to proselytize, which is to try to convert someone, and would be frowned upon in the workplace. 

10. Should You Lie to Your Boss?

Being less than truthful with your boss can have repercussions, depending on the lie. The moral dilemma you may face may be whether you should lie about your experience and education, which could easily be verified. If the lie is less impactful, as in, you call in sick but aren't, you are less likely to get caught in the lie.

In employing your critical thinking skills you may find that you agree its fine to lie to your boss in certain situations. However, does lying to your boss on any level go against your personal moral beliefs? If so, that will create your moral dilemma. 

11. Recalling a Faulty Product.

Let's say you own a business, and it has come to your attention that the product you've shipped and sold has a faulty part.

What would you do? If the part's faultiness would cause harm to someone using the product, that's a serious consideration. If, however, the faultiness may not be noticed and would not cause harm, that may cause you to consider not recalling the product.

The moral dilemma is presented as you determine how you feel about not making the product right and looking out for the best interests of your customers. There is also the legal side of recalling a product.

12. Taking Credit for Your Coworker’s Work.

You've collaborated on a project at work. Your team members have given valuable input that has drawn attention from your management team. You know this recognition could move you closer to a promotion.

Although one of your teammates had the most eye-catching input, should you claim credit for it? After all, it was a team effort, and you'd really like that promotion.

The moral dilemma is doing what's right by giving your teammates the credit they deserve, which would preserve your working relationship or risk your working relationship by claiming the credit for yourself.

To help you make your decision ask yourself whether taking credit for someone else's work is ethical. It would be more beneficial to pursue your own path to promotion without detracting from someone else. 

13. Aborting a Child with Down Syndrome.

When you're expecting a baby, it's generally a joyous occasion. If you find out your baby will be living with life-changing challenges, such as Down syndrome, you may find you're facing a moral dilemma.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the life expectancy of babies with Down syndrome increased from 10-years-old in 1960 to 47-years-old in 2007.

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It's a heavy burden to carry and keep a secret from a friend, especially if you feel that she will be hurt by finding out the truth.

While there are additional challenges associated with a child with Down syndrome, the dilemma basically comes down to the question: how does an abortion fit into your moral beliefs?

You may want to read this article showcasing three families struggling with the moral dilemma of aborting a Down syndrome child. 

14. Should You Tell Your Friend if Her Husband is Cheating?

It's a heavy burden to carry and keep a secret from a friend, especially if you feel that she will be hurt by finding out the truth. You may also be worried about how the information you're intending to share will be received.

If not received well, you could lose a friend. At best, it would likely be an emotional conversation.

Or your moral dilemma might be: should you speak to your friend about the situation or speak to her husband or just do nothing?

No matter what your choice is according to your moral beliefs, I think you can agree this is a sticky situation. If you do decide to tell your friend, do it with finesse.

15. Is It Okay to Take Supplies from Your Office?

Many people work in office settings and for their job functions to be fulfilled, their companies supply tools they need. These tools may be something as simple as paper clips to pens, notebooks, office chairs, and computers.

The moral dilemma becomes when you question whether you should take some of these office supplies home for your own personal use.

According to your belief system, would that be stealing from the company or would it be acceptable? Would it matter if the item you'd like to take is a small item or do you believe, right or wrong, any item would carry the same weight in your decision? 

Final Thoughts on Real-World Ethical Dilemmas

While ethical dilemma examples may go from two difficult choices, to almost impossible choices, I'm sure you and I can agree that it helps to arm yourself with the knowledge of how others have faced similar situations.

In reading through the ethical dilemma examples we've provided, you may have found a pathway to your own answers.

When making your choices, it's in your best interest to keep honesty, integrity, and morality paramount.  The ability to weigh each choice and try to objectively choose for the greater good is beneficial.

Your critical thinking skills will come into play and possibly be challenged when making difficult choices. As you can see from the examples we've provided in this article, some moral dilemmas are quite difficult and the answers are not always clear-cut choices. 

The bottom line is that the examples detailed in this article may help you in making decisions as they arise in your own life, especially when you find them challenging.

A good starting point is to get yourself in the right mindset, consider all the facts, then figure out whether you have the control to make the decision needed before moving forward. Having done that, once you've made your choice, you'll have the satisfaction that you've chosen wisely.

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