Social Impact Analysis
Ethics in Computing Links
Exercises for Therac-25
This exercise uses a modified version of Robert Collins and Keith Miller's
ParaMedic Ethics procedure. Collins and Miller recommend a procedure to
use in evaluating a decision. We are not here evaluating any particular
decision, but we can use their method to help us understand the obligations,
rights, costs, and benefits for each of the parties in the system. This
exercise will require students to read the case on the website with some
knowledge of the method they will be using, so they can take relevant
notes as they read. Thus, the best approach to this exercise requires
introducing the modified paramedic ethics procedure in one class, assigning
the exercise and case as homework, and then spending the next class period
discussing students conclusions.
Alternatively, students might be assigned the case to read for homework
and then introduced to the method of analysis in the subsequent class.
If this approach is taken, be sure to have the case available in class
(either on a computer with a projector or in printouts for each student)
to aid recall.
There are several approaches to having students read the case for this
exercise. You might have them read all the case section but exclude the
accident reports. Once students have gone through the paramedic procedure
based on their knowledge, you might then introduce them to one or more
of the accidents. Does this new information change their assessments of
the case? You might give some students partial information (e.g. just
the background sections) and others more extensive information. This too
is likely to produce differences in their analyses of the case. Alternatively,
you might use small sections of the case (e.g. just the background) early
in a course and add information about the case as the course progresses.
Each of these approaches are likely to produce differences in the way
the case is analyzed by students. These differences help make it clear
how important a comprehensive view of a case is.
Our modified paramedic ethic procedure consists of 4 phases. The basic
analysis consists of phases 1 and 2, in which the basic relationships
among the important stakeholders in the case are outlined. The phases
that construct and judge the various alternative scenarios can be done
as many times as you wish for each set of actions you think are important.
To make this go faster, you might assign groups to construct and present
their analysis of the duties and rights of each of the main stakeholders
presented in the case: AECL, FDA, hospitals, operators, and patients.
- List the relevant stakeholders. Start with some of the groups
mentioned in the socio-technical system page. However, do not end there.
Notice that our accident victims, the patients, are not included. Other
important groups may also be omitted (e.g. "the public"). The ImpactCS
framework provides you with a useful guide to different levels of stakeholders
that you might overlook.
- Outline the duties and rights the stakeholders have toward each
other. This is best done with a drawing of each stakeholder with
arrows indicating duties one owes to other and rights one has. Duties
always have targets, one has duties to a particular person (even to
oneself). Rights may appear to be free floating (e.g. not to be harmed)
but they can often be translated into duties that others have toward
the individual (avoid harming X). The ImpactCS framework provides a
useful guide to outlining these duties and rights. Use the list of ethical
issues to remind yourself of rights and duties in the range of likely
Analyze the data
- List the relevant opportunities and vulnerabilities that each stakeholder
had in the case. This is the beginning of what Collins and Miller
call a utilitarian ethical analysis. Who is being helped and harmed?
What advantages or opportunities does each party receive in this case?
What costs or dangers, or vulnerabilities does each party experience?
- Determine to what degree each stakeholder's duties were fulfilled
- Determine to what degree each stakeholder's rights were violated
or protected, and by whom.
Construct an Alternative Scenario.
- Construct a promising alternative for some set of actions for a significant
actor (e.g. reporting procedures in AECL, FDA procedures, hospital treatment
procedures, safety analysis procedures by AECL). For some hints about
alternative sets of actions, see the exercises about computer control
choices and about reporting procedures.
Judge the Alternative
- Judge the alternative's effect on each stakeholders' opportunities
and vulnerabilities and on each stakeholders' duties and rights.
- Imagine each stakeholder in a negotiation with other stakeholders
about whether the alternative should be adopted or not. This certainly
helps uncover disagreements about the opportunities and vulnerabilities
for each party. One interesting way to stage this negotiation is to
have parties that initially represent each stakeholder attempt to
don a "veil of ignorance" about which stakeholder they might be when
the alternative is adopted. If you might be randomly assigned to any
of the stakeholder roles in the case, how would this affect your evaluation
of the alternative?
- Rank the alternative with other alternatives for that set of
actions. An alternative does not have to be perfect, or even optimal,
to be better than the others.
Collins, W. R. & Miller, K. W. (1992). Paramedic ethics for computer
professionals. Journal of Systems and Software, 1-20.