The ethical dilemmas of risky decisions

Ben J.M. Ale*, David H. Slater, Des N.D. Hartford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
87 Downloads (Pure)


Even in a pandemic there seem to be inherent conflicts of interest between the individual and societal consequences of remedial actions and strategies. Actions taken in the sole interests of patients, as required by the Hippocratic oath, can have broadly inconvenient economic implications for the State. (“Average” benefits for a population can impose individual inconveniences for the vulnerable.). Understandably these decisions are not normally made explicitly and transparently by governments. This leads to seemingly illogical and inhumane strategies which are not understood and hence mistrusted and often ignored by the public. Vaccination sentiments on social media are often an unwanted symptom of this dilemma. This article outlines and discusses a number of examples of such situations with a focus on ethical aspects. It concludes that each case must be considered individually as to the issues that need to be weighed in these difficult decisions; and that there are no clear and universally acceptable ethical solutions. What can be learned from the COVID-19 crisis is that short term utilitarianism has consequences that in the eyes of the population are unacceptable. This lesson seems equally valid for cost benefit evaluations regarding other risks, such as from hazardous industries, flood defenses, and air transport. Decisionmakers and politicians can learn that persuasion only goes so far. In the end the people appear to prioritize in terms of deontology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-233
Number of pages15
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


Dive into the research topics of 'The ethical dilemmas of risky decisions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this