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December 18, 2012

The Moral and Ethical Consequences Ignored

Steve Gottlieb

In our society many arguments revolve around whether something is legal. We very rarely seriously discuss whether something is ethical. After all, we are a country that was founded on the premise that a system of laws and blind justice is the best way to ensure equal treatment for all.


Given what appears to be the increasing momentum of moral decline in the United States of America, maybe more should be discussed than just the legality of an issue. Maybe the discussion should also revolve around the issues’ morality. After all, just because something is legal does that mean that action, whatever it is, should be taken?


To begin, here are some definitions to ensure there’s a clear understanding of what the words “legal,” “moral” and “ethical” mean in the context of this column.


According to the online edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of legal is “conforming to or permitted by law or established rules.” Moral is defined as “of or relating to principles of right and wrong behavior.” Finally there are two definitions for the word “ethical,” which are appropriate to this discussion. The first is “conforming to accepted standards of conduct;” and the second is “involving or expressing moral approval or disapproval.”


These concepts are important because every day we are called upon to make decisions that have both legal and moral consequences. For instance, for some people the decision may be whether or not to have an abortion. It is legal to do so; however, the question of that action’s morality is a different topic. Another example is the financial support of those people who flagrantly violate the immigration laws of our country. It is now legal for some of those people to take advantage of in-state college tuition even though they are in this country illegally. Again, it is legal, but is it moral?


More examples might include our exploding national debt or the sale of Spice. It is legal for the federal government to continue to spend and expand our debt even though the burden of payment is now being shifted to future generations. The question should really be: while it is legal, is it moral to pass that burden on? Due to recent events, the sale of Spice became an issue locally. It was outlawed in the City of Frederick, Walkersville and Thurmont, but was still legal in Frederick County. Some business owners chose to move part of their business outside the city limits so as to continue the sale of Spice. They were absolutely within their legal rights to do so. The question is: were their actions moral?


None of these actions or decisions takes place in a vacuum. For each one of them there is a consequence. For instance, we talk about abortion; a life is ended every time one is performed. Also, according to statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, minority women account for roughly 64% of abortions while 42% of women having abortions have incomes below the federal poverty level. While this may be legal, the morality of the issue needs to be called into question. It almost appears as if abortion is being directed toward minorities and the poor, even though others also participate.


On the issue of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, while it is now the law, there is certainly a cost associated with it borne by legal citizens who may not have access to the same tuition. Again, is this moral?


Of course, while it is legal for our government to tax us and to continue to spend money without any regard to the eventual financial fallout, the question really needs to focus on whether it is moral to do so. Some people try to address this but only at a very superficial level. But no one really addresses the question of is it moral to take what someone earns and give it to someone who did not earned it? At what point should the government no longer have a right to reach into our pockets? Is there a moral limit to a government condemning its future generations to a life of servitude under a crushing debt from which there is little chance to escape?


The final example deals with the sale of Spice. More evidence surfaces every day concerning the harm caused by this substance. Three localities in Frederick County outlawed it. However, it is still legal within the unincorporated areas of Frederick County. In a move seen by some as a way to get around the city ordinances, a couple of local businesses opened up outlets to sell Spice just over the city line in the county. The actions are legal. The question is: given the harmful effects of Spice and similar substances, is it moral for these businesses to avoid complying with city ordinances in this manner?


Every day we hear in the news about the dire situation our country is in financially. One can’t help but wonder if part of the reason we’re in this predicament is because we completely ignore decisions based on morality and only look at legality and profit.


It is incumbent upon us as a society to consider all issues from a legal and moral viewpoint. It is our ethical duty to ensure we question the direction we’re headed. It is highly probable the reason our country is broke, the reason we have more people on welfare than ever before and the reason nothing is being done to fix these issues is that as a nation we no longer consider morals a part of our decision-making.


It is time we exercise our ethical judgment and insist our leaders take into account the moral ramifications of their decisions as well as the legal ones.


We should accept nothing less!


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