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This list is simply a starting place for students to find a topic. These questions are
posed in an attempt to get students thinking about the many ethical conundrums
facing informed world citizens of the 21st century. I encourage you to dig into a
topic that intrigues actually educate yourself about something you may
know little about, to take a chance and travel into an issue that you can look at with
openness and investigate without prejudice. Good hunting!

Ravages of War

Now that the US has laid waste the country of Afghanistan in the war on terrorism what
moral obligation do we have to support the democratically elected government, rebuild
the nation? What actually is being done and how are US efforts being received? Does
our government have plans to do more? If so, what are those plans and how would they
impact the culture of this ancient people?

Since the US military intervention in Iraq what strides in self-government have been
made? What is taking the Iraqis so long in coming together in a common effort to set up
elections, establish domestic rule, etc.? What is our moral obligation in bringing this to
fruition? Is it worth sacrificing over 100 American lives since the peace to accomplish

Is it ethical for the US to promote US corporate profit taking in Iraq? Why were Kuwaiti
businesses directed to leave when providing cell phone service two weeks after the US
occupation and the contract for telecommunications given to a US firm? Is the US
„capitalizing‟ on a ravaged people for a business monopoly? What part has the US
government played in this? Shouldn‟t the „free market‟ determine who provides services
if we are truly promoting capitalism to the Iraqis?

Has the US privatized the military or many aspects of it? To what extent is the US,
through private corporations providing support to the troops in Iraq or Afghanistan?
How ethical is it for the US to contract with private security companies to provide
protection for foreign heads of state? To what extent is this being done?

Same sex educational institutions

The Supreme Court recently declared the Virginia Military Institute‟s policy of admitting
males only to be unconstitutional. Yet this raises questions about whether state-
supported same-sex education is ever permissible. For example, plans are currently
under way in New York to open a public school for girls only, beginning with seventh
graders. Studies have suggested that girls, especially from poorer neighborhoods, do
better in classrooms without boys, at least in part because of social pressure not to appear
smarter than the boys. Do single sex schools have any legitimate place in our society?
What does the answer to that question reveal about views on the place of gender in the
ideal society?
Rights and cultural issues

Recently several women have sought asylum in the US while fleeing abuse in their home
countries. Some of these women are burned with acid for rejecting men‟s advances, sold
and treated as property, physically mutilated. These cases raise several interesting issues,
one of which concerns cultural relativism. Can we judge the moral worth of practices
that occur in other cultures? How should we act when confronted with such practices?
Should the US, as champions of human rights, have a policy about these abuses? What
are the advantages/disadvantages of such a policy?

Has the conversion to Christianity or Islam in the world positively or negatively impacted
the quality of life in civilizations thus affected? Examine cultures before and since the
advent of these world religions.

The status of people born into the “untouchable” class in India is changing, thanks to
some government initiatives and changes in policy. What impact will this change have
both on individuals born into this caste system and on the nation of India? What was this
class and has the economic development of this nation assisted or impeded social

Recently the city of San Francisco has offered to marry same sex couples. Many
homosexuals state that, being tax-paying citizens, they deserve the same protection under
the law as heterosexuals, and marriage offers certain guarantees, (i.e., inheritance,
benefits coverage, custody issues) Opponents of this say that marriage by its definition is
a joining of a man and a woman. Proponents say marriage should not be a „religious‟
definition but a civil one. Which point of view is tenable

Common language

There is no official language in the US. Should English be the required language? This
raises some moral and political questions. What role does language play in ethnic
identity? To what extent should state‟s permit ethnic identity or encourage it? To what
extent is a common language necessary for political community? What additional
stresses are placed on public educational institutions to accommodate a variety of

Should Ebonics be taught as a language is our public schools? What effect, socially,
economically, politically would this have on an individual, a community, our nation?
Can it be used legitimately as a teaching tool with urbane adolescents? If so, how would
it be used and to what end?


Increasing discussion of the rights and privileges of prisoners has taken place. Some of
these – such as exercise and weight lifting – relate to the prisoners‟ physical capabilities
after release. Others, such as access to law books, may affect whether and when they are
released. Others such as requirements for hard physical labor, such as chain gangs, as
well as privileges, such as television, relate to the question of how unpleasant the prison
experience should be. This takes us to the question of what punishment is all about. Is it
intended primarily to reform, to deter, or is its purpose mainly retributive? Are there
limits on how unpleasant prison can be? At what point does punishment become torture?

The OJ trial was one of the most expensive in history, and it is clear that Simpson‟s
financial resources enable him to mount a defense vastly superior to anything that most
individuals would be able to present.

Those same financial resources made it much easier for the defense to remain one step
ahead of the prosecution from the very beginning. What role should money play in the
criminal justice system? The demands of justice seem to stress that we try to be
impartial, to treat all defendants the same, yet money seems to insure that some will be
treated differently than others. The public defender system attempts to remedy some of
these inequalities. Should there be additional restrictions or changes in the system to
insure more equal treatment for rich and poor before the law?

The verdict in the OJ trial raised a number of important questions about the place of race
in the criminal justice system. Racial profiling is a common „preventative‟ in some law
enforcement communities. African American youths are stopped at a high frequency
than Caucasian youth. Middle Eastern travelers are detained by airport security more
frequently than westerners. It seems as though all racial groups are subjected to some
kind of unfair guilt or innocence judgement. How can a diverse nation such as ours
adequately secure the public safety and not use race inappropriately?

We are shocked especially by those who are extremely young and commit terrible crimes.
 Time magazine, for example, published an article about Yummy Sandifer, age 11, who
killed and was killed in Chicago. A few years ago in Flint, Michigan a first grader
brought a gun to school and killed a classmate. Some wanted this child tried as an adult.
What implications does this have for the juvenile justice system?

 Recently a convicted murderer with an IQ of 70 was executed. What restrictions should
we have on those who can be sentenced to death? Should there be a minimum age, such
that convicted felons under that age cannot be sentenced to death? Should there be a
minimum IQ, so that convicted felons who are below that IQ cannot be sentences to death
because they may have had diminished responsibility in the first place or because they
would have a diminished ability to participate in their own defense?

What are the implications, if any, of the fact that we sometimes wrongfully convict and in
some cases, execute people for murder? Should the death of a single innocent person be
sufficient to dissuade us from the use of this penalty? To what extent are such
convictions racially based? Four black men falsely convicted of murder and rape and
having spent 18 years in prison, are now free – in large part because of DNA tests and the
efforts of supporters who gathered evidence. Check out the Northern Illinois University
Department of Sociology who maintains statistics of wrongful murder convictions.
What punishment should be administered to chronic sex offenders? In a Time magazine
article published in 1996 by James Walsh we read about a chronic sex offender who
tortured and murdered two girls. The California State Supreme Court just passed a bill
recently permitting chemical castration for child molesters. What are the moral strengths
and weaknesses of this bill? Is it a feasible and effective solution to crimes of this type?

Sometimes criminals suffer more during their executions than is anticipated or planned –
for example the 1994 execution of John Gacy. What is the moral signifigance of cases
such as these? Is it a factor in deciding whether the death penalty should be permitted?
What counts as “cruel and unusual” punishment?

Poverty and welfare

Receipt of welfare support obviously is dependent on the applicant meeting certain pre-
existing conditions, such as being unemployed. Ought welfare to include additional
conditions that require the recipient to act in certain ways? Such conditions include a
requirement that recipients work, participate in job training, test negative for drug use,

In many developed nations, i.e. Canada, Sweden, England, health care is a right of every
citizen. In the US many people have no health care available to them. What are the
options to Americans today of finding reasonable health care without employer provided
insurance? Is it possible to afford health care while working minimum wage jobs? How
does a working American go about getting coverage? What does it cost? How does this
compare to a comparable worker in one of the above mentioned countries?

Some of the poorest nations of the world owe the largest debt to world banking
institutions. In order to pay interest on these loans, many third world nations deny their
own citizens basic human services, clean air and water, compromising their standard of
living. Often these nations ask to have their loans forgiven, enabling them to free up
funds to improve the quality of life for their people. What is the moral responsibility of
these national leaders? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this course of
action for both the world banks and the nations in question?

The US holds the rights to vast mineral resources. What policies should govern the sale
of public lands for private use? Should restrictions be placed on those lands?

The US population makes up 20% of the world‟s population yet consumes 80% of the
world‟s resources (water, oil, natural gas, etc.) We are guilty of conspicuous
consumption, yet are not moved, as a people to reduce, reuse or recycle to any great
degree, either for the world‟s sake or for future generations. What are the moral
implications of this posture and what could be done to change the average American‟s

Rights of children
The welfare of children in any society speaks to the priorities of that society. In our
country at what point do children have rights? Do these extend to protection of children
from their parents? Should a child‟s life and health supercede the parental right to freely
exercise their religious beliefs? Who would make these decisions?

Some parents are not competent to raise children due to addictions, mental illness, etc.
At what point would a child‟s rights be infringed upon and how is this decided? Should
the state or other designated agency have the rights to take children from bad home
situations? What constitutes a bad environment?

Is the lack of economic or intellectual resources an adequate reason to forbid a person
from being a parent?

Are some people too old to become parents? With the development of new reproductive
technologies, it is now possible for women to become pregnant even after menopause. In
the past men could father children late in their lives; now women in their fifties can bear
children – a few already have? Should there be any restrictions on the age at which
people can become parents? Should these restrictions be gender neutral?

What kind of restrictions should they be, general moral prohibitions, or should they have
some legal or financial sanction?

Are some too young to parent children? If a child of 12 desires to bear a child, she is
certainly, in many cases able to do this. The 12 year old, however is not considered an
adult. Should she be permitted to make this decision, or is it her parents‟ decision or the
state‟s? What then is done if and when she becomes a parent? Is an adult of 21 or older
then legally responsible for both the parent and her child until the legal age of 18? Who
should assume legal and financial responsibility for these “children”?

If restrictions are placed on appropriate ages for childbearing based on age what other
restrictions should be considered. Recently the rights of mentally and physically
challenged adults to bear children have been debated. At what point should the rights of
their progeny be considered?

Some children in other cultures are sold into slavery for prostitution or sold to
manufacturers for labor by their poverty stricken families. What can the average
American citizen do to stop this child abuse in foreign lands? What corporations are
benefiting from child labor abroad and what, if anything, can American consumers do to
bring about change in these practices

Ecological Issues

Imagine you are the research assistant to a US official attending a world conference on
global warming. What policy recommendations should be proposed that represent the
concerns of US citizens? What are the best arguments in support of your policies and
what are the objections?
Should the US have the right to disproportionately use fossil fuels or other natural
resources creating ecological shortages for other nations? At what point does our
national morality compel us to seek alternative solutions to our conspicuous

Packaging of products for consumers is big business. Universities offer degree programs
in package engineering. Customer safety is a determining factor since the tainting of
Tylenol on a drug store shelf took place decades ago. How can business responsibly use
less waste and still assure safety? What would the economic and ecological impact be if
a policy were developed to limit packaging?

The US owns right to vast mineral resources. What policies should govern the sale of
public lands for private use? Should restrictions be placed on the use of those lands? To
what extent do we preserve natural beauty for future generations?

Gender Issues

Images of women promoted in the media are often idealized and unobtainable. What
impact does this have on the way men view women, women view themselves and the
development of healthy self-images among young girls?

Media also creates images of minorities, both male and female, through advertising and
programming. What stereotypes are these images promoting and what harm or benefit is
being done to minorities? Bill Cosby has some strong opinions about today‟s comics and
the disservice they are doing to African-Americans.

Women are still underrepresented in corporate boardrooms of America. The glass ceiling
and diminished earning power await even the most promising females. What can be done
to remedy this situation?

Health Care Issues

The research and development of drugs is an extremely expensive proposition. The drugs
most researched and aggressively marketed are those that impact diseases of excess –
drugs that treat obesity, symptoms of obesity, inactivity, stress, as well as drugs that
improve sexual performance. Diseases that cause death or impact people in tropical
nations are rarely aggressively developed. What can and should be done to encourage
pharmaceutical companies to work more intentionally to manufacture drugs that save
lives in less developed nations.

Imagine you are a vice president of a major health insurance group. You are asked to
develop a policy detailing the point at which your insurance company will cease to
support efforts to keep a patient alive. What would the rational and conditions of that
policy be?
Some who are faced with terminal illnesses turn to physicians for assistance in dying.
What special responsibilities do physicians have in this regard? Do they have any special
obligation to their own patients simply because they are their own patients? Do they
have special obligations as physicians not to anything that would end life? See the
Hippocratic Oath for text of various versions.

The cloning of animals has taken place, and in Canada a human cloning project is
predicting success within the year. What moral issues could be raised if this procedure is
perfected? Knowing that life expectancy could be compromised or other diseases could
be transmitted genetically, does society have a moral responsibility to safeguard the
incipient human? Who or what will determine a „worthy‟ donor for DNA?

A compassionate society cares for its most vulnerable. In our society the physically
challenged and the aged have limited options for quality living situations – nursing
homes, long term care facilities, and assisted living centers. What can be done to
improve the options available and to monitor the quality of these places?

Ethics and the Law

At what point are corporations culpable for product designs that result in injury and/or
death? The recent controversy over Ford Explorers and tires has raised the issue of
consumer safety and corporate responsibility. Several states have brought law suits
against tobacco companies to recover health care expenses incurred caring for victims of
lung cancer. Will distilleries be next?

How ethical is it for CEOs to take home millions in salaries and bonuses when the
corporation for which they work is in disarray, losing money, laying off workers and
raiding pension funds? What could/should be done to bring back accountability in the
boardrooms of corporate America?

Some corporations sell and/or manufacture products that result in death or injury to
consumers, for example – bullets and weapons are manufactured and sold legally in this
country. But after being asked by 2 victims of the Columbine High School shooting to
stop selling bullets, Kmart stopped. To what extent are corporations liable for death
and/or injury? How ethical is it to sell and/or manufacture automatic weapons (i.e., AK-
47‟s, Uzi‟s) and ammunition that are often used in an illegal manner?

Adolescent Issues

Many educators charge that students in American high schools are undisciplined. How
widespread is the problem? In what ways has it affected learning? Have the „get-tough‟
laws since 1999 been effective in improving the safety of the schools in Michigan?

Does the increase in ADD diagnosis relate to children‟s increase exposure to electronic
media, i.e. video games, fast paced TV programming for children, etc.? What is the link
between immunizations and ADD?
Examine the relationship between juvenile delinquency and family instability. Some
would suggest that teens from particular home environments are the most likely

Is teenage alcoholism is increasing. To what do experts attribute this?

Teenagers in China today. How have their lives changed since 1930? 1950? Tiananmen

Refute or defend this: The American teenager has been portrayed as self-indulgent, self-
centered, and immature as compared to his/her European counterpart.

Refute or defend: Today‟s American teenager is much more community service oriented
and altruistic than any other in America‟s history.

The proper punishment of juvenile offenders is a contested issue. Discuss standard
contemporary procedures of juvenile justice and the suggested reforms. How effective
are boot camps, detention centers?

Contemporary Issues

The globalization of American culture is a reality. From Borneo to Bangladesh you will
find American corporations doing business, selling music, burgers, fashions. Is this
exportation of our culture a two way street? Do other cultures benefit or lose identity in
this trade? How ethical is it to saturate the rest of the world with American values,
products, and culture?

Defend or refute: Pregnant women who use drugs should be criminally prosecuted for
child abuse.

Has illicit drug use by young people has been increasing every year. Examine this trend.
Is a reversal in sight? Is the illegal use of alcohol among teens rising?

Examine the problems encountered in taking care and nurturing of crack babies.

Do persons with addictions have particular personality characteristics, genetic markers?
Is their addiction predictable?

Violent crime is reported to be down in America, yet many citizens believe it is more
dangerous than ever.

What part does the news media play in promoting the „culture of fear‟ in America? How
does TV impact the perception that crime is worse than it is?

Do parents who use harmful drugs encourage recreational drug use by their children?
Who should be subject to random drug testing? Who should make this decision?

It has been suggested that parents should be punished for children's drug use. Is this a
reasonable proposal?


We live in a diverse global society. Has your education prepared you for success in this

Is American education too Euro centric? What is or is not being taught about the
contributions of Asian and African civilizations? What can be done to remedy this
paucity of exposure to the rest of the world?

What techniques are being employed by schools to avoid violent incidents?

Do our high schools place too much emphasis on sports? Academic achievement?

Segregated private schools in the United States today are becoming more of a reality.
Often diversity is only a word and not a social experience for these students. What
advantages/disadvantages are evident in these types of schools?

What are the effects of poverty and poor nutrition on educational achievement of school
children? Cite recent studies and clinical observation. What does this research imply
should be done to improve academic performance and enhance learning opportunities for

If diet impacts learning should the federal government change its minimum daily
requirements and recommendations for a balanced diet, impacting federal lunch programs

What is the relationship of intelligence tests and cultural and social background? How
much should colleges, universities, employers rely on these tests for placement?

The Humanities

Popular songs in the 1960‟s OR 1970‟s OR 1980's OR 1990‟s. What are the social,
ethical and cultural values they express and promote?

Music therapy – what is it, how is it used and does it work?

What relationship does reading notes have on learning to read words? Some researchers
suggest that music enhances learning. What evidence exists to support this research?

Does Christian doctrine affect contemporary ecological issues and concerns? How has it
impacted social policy in the US and elsewhere?
What has been the impact of Muslim culture on world history?

Drug testing and the workplace. Who has the right to test and who should be tested?

Living conditions of migrant farm workers. Select an area, such as the South or the
South-west and examine the working and living conditions of these people. What is their
daily wage? What corporations are fair and equitable in their treatment of workers and
which are exploitive?

Illegal aliens are only taking jobs no one else wants. Is this statement true? Justify with
both facts and figures. Should the US declare an amnesty on current illegals in the

What is the wage gap for women's earnings: do a national survey.

Sexual and racial wage disparities in the modern market place. What on average are the
difference in pay for different genders and races of workers in comparable jobs? What
industries offer an equitable opportunity and where are the inequities?

Should public employees be allowed to strike? How can they expect to get concessions
from their employers is they don‟t have that option

Consumer Responsibilities

Brand name drugs – a consumer rip off? Are generics just as good? Why are Canadian
drugs so much cheaper? Why are US drug companies lobbying to make importing and/or
purchasing these drugs illegal?

Should all Americans have free emergency health care? A typical ER visit may cost over
$300. providing no surgery is required. Who would sustain the cost of that health care
and how would it work?

Population control in Latin America and Africa

Forced sterilization as a means of population control.

Why do birth control programs generally fail in third world countries?

Birth control and planned population growth in China since 1950.

The World

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip: the issues. Can peace ever
be obtained?
The major issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Who‟s really in charge of the Palestinians
and what are the main disagreements with Israel?

Does the US get a fair and balanced view of the issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict?

World famine: Whose responsibility? What have been the causes of recent famines?
What are some forms of relief that could be taken to avoid another famine?

Events leading to the Tiananmen Square massacre (1989).

The Rwandan genocide. Where and when did it happen and why was it allowed, even
when the US knew it was going on?

Ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Where, when and why did this happen and
what was the US response?

Many experts believe that the greatest risk of nuclear war or attack is between (or from)
terrorist groups. Why?


The risks and benefits of human medical experimentation.

For-profit hospitals have flourished in the last decade. Detractors claim their goals are
detrimental to quality patient care. Can a drive for profit coexist with medical integrity?

To what extent should technology be used to prolong a life?

Examine the ethical considerations of surrogate motherhood – for the parents, child and

Kidney dialysis is very expensive and not available to everyone. Who decides?

The future of personality change through chemistry. Consider drugs such as Prozac and
examine the rules governing their use.

When is a person dead so that organs can be harvested for transplantation to save
another‟s life? What is the likelihood that organs can be grown independent of „hosts‟ to
provide replacement organs in the future?

What are the ethical considerations of using animal parts for human implantation, and
what current applications exist for doing this within the near future?