The Ethical Dilemma and Abortion SOCIAL WORK ESSAY 1500 words

The Ethical Dilemma and Abortion



Our ethical dilemma is based on this fictitious scenario. A 15-year-old young lady named Annie, who comes from a catholic family, was raped. As a consequence thereof, she became pregnant. Her mother wanted her to continue with her pregnancy but Annie wanted to abort her unborn child for she could not face having a child who was a product of a crime against her.

Before we tackle several intertwined concepts regarding this most saddening scenario, it is only proper that we first define what ethical dilemma is in line with social work as a profession.


Main Body

Ethics is a broad term for various ways of probing and comprehending the moral life (Beauchamp and Childress 2001). Webster’s dictionary (1992 p.266) states that a dilemma is a situation in which one is faced with a choice between equally unsatisfactory alternatives. These unsatisfactory alternatives may arise out of personal opposing values and beliefs previously, or currently, held and practiced by an individual. If that individual were to be a social worker then his or her values will be based on his or her profession, collectively called professional ethics, and that is what will govern his or her actions as a professional rather than personal values.  Beckett and Maynard (2005) assert that in creating guidelines on professional ethics, personal values are often used to establish certain standards of conduct. This means that even though a social worker has to act in accordance with the paradigm of the profession, personal values and beliefs cannot be disregarded because it was these different individual ideals that molded the unifying ethics of the social work profession.

Social workers are often placed in a difficult position to choose one of those unsatisfactory alternatives and, in the case of Annie, that is to agree or disagree with, to approve or not, the abortion. When a social worker counsels Annie and her family, he or she must probe into the family’s own set of values and beliefs as well as Annie’s personal values. There must be thorough assessment of the entire scenario. In the real world of practice, and particularly in the organizational content of social work, nothing is that simple (Bowles 2007 p.42).

In dealing with diverse clients, a social worker in theory and in practice must be competent in making decisions. It is imperative that his or her judgment in a certain scenario will be the same if, in truth and in fact, that exact scenario were to happen to him or her. In helping people cope with their dilemmas, an effective social worker is one who relates solutions to problems as if he or she had firsthand experience of that difficulty. Genuine and instant rapport with people is also an advantage. When interacting with problematic individuals, it is a plus that a social worker can immediately gain the trust and confidence of the person. The proper process of communication must also be employed to promote a smooth flow of interaction. Providing alternative choices in solving dilemmas is an approach that will give a person the autonomy to still decide for himself or herself. Buchanan and Brock (1989) suggest that competence also includes the capacity to draw inferences regarding the consequences of a choice and to judge alternative results based on how they further promote one’s ends. In intervening, as in the case of Annie, the social worker must dig deep into the problem no matter how personal it may be in order to come up with the correct approach of helping her.

In contemplating possible alternative results, a social worker must never be discriminatory or oppressive to any of the opposing value systems, which cannot be relied on. An often possible example where a social worker may show prejudice or bias to a particular value system is when it comes to religion. Religious faith is undoubtedly one of the main sources from which people derive their system of values (Beckett and Maynard 2005 p.48). If a social worker adheres to a religion that condemns abortion, then we can infer that the social worker will most likely be against abortion no matter what. Of course, this must be avoided; in the words of O’Connor et al (2006) a social worker is someone who draws on a broad variety of professional knowledge when formulating interventions. Religion is only one of those many sources of knowledge a social worker can reference. In the case of Annie, since she comes from a Catholic family, then the prevailing views of her religion about her condition is definitely one of the many aspects that should be taken into consideration during an interaction of a social worker.

In conceptualizing the most beneficial advice to a person in need, a social worker must also note the kind of society to which that person belongs. According to Millam (2002) each of us has our own attitude or opinion about the many groups that make up the society in which we live. Certain decisions and actions may be sensible and practical to us but if it goes against prevailing societal values, then it must be further evaluated before adopting it. It is in the nature of social work that it is prone to finding itself in difficult places where deeply held societal values collide (Beckett and Maynard 2005 p.19). Social justice is one of those concepts which must be upheld at all costs. Fair treatment is always sought in all interactions with any client no matter what their social stature in life may be and regardless of the complexity and immorality of their mishap.

Another value system that is integrated in the labour of an effective social worker is agency values. Superficially, organizational values of all agencies for social workers are the same but if we scrutinize closely the goals, objectives, rules and regulations as affected by resources and laws, we will be able to see the difference in standards of practice. This must also be taken into consideration when aiding to clients.

Another factor to consider in the effective performance of the duties of a social worker is the law. Substantive rights of people as defined by laws of the society to which they belong is an aspect that a social worker has to carefully deal with; in the UK, the law trumps all arguably as British society and democracy is based on its supremacy. Reckless ignorance of these laws may mean a violation of a client’s rights and privileges and legal action against a social worker.

Furthermore, another unavoidable philosophy to bear in mind is one’s own conscience. Conscience is viewed as a faculty or authority for moral decision-making (Beauchamp and Childress 2001 p.37).

From these foregoing concepts, we can see that professional and personal values, societal values and agency values often cause tension in the profession of social work.

With all these in mind, a social worker can only suggest, advise and persuade according to the standards and limitations of the profession. The recommendation laid down as a solution to an ethical dilemma such as in the case of Annie, whether to proceed with the abortion or not, is at most only a proposition. A social worker cannot force upon a person to do what the social worker evaluated to be the best answer to an ethical dilemma. A social worker cannot impose on Annie or her family what Annie must do or not do. Respect for human rights and self-determination has to be maintained (BASW 2002). It is still within a person’s judgment whether to follow the alternatives that were relayed by a professional social worker or to heed his or her own judgment and his or her own conscience. It may be within a social worker’s responsibilities to ensure the wellbeing of individuals who are in dire need of help; however, despite measures and interventions applied, the final act or omission of the act still lies with the individual.



The case of Annie is truly something that proves the extent of the unhappy reality happening in our society. Her case was truly a dilemma that required a holistic intervention of an effective social worker. On the other hand, it also signals the rationale behind the necessity and nobility of social work as a profession. There may be a hundred more professions, occupations, and vocations but a social worker can proudly declare that it is only within the purview of his or her profession that there is a sincere immersion of self and genuine offer of help to the needs of human beings. A social worker takes into consideration all the many aspects of life in order for him or her to effectively execute his or her professional service. Social work is arguably an ethical  profession at heart: it does not only seek to ease human suffering but it also endeavors to achieve a better world (O’Connor et. al 2006).









BASW (2002) The BASW code of ethics for social work: Key principles, viewed on 20 August 2009, from

Beauchamp, T. and Childress, J. (2001) Principles of biomedical ethics, 5th edition, University Press, Oxford

Beckett, C. and Maynard, A. (2005) Values & ethics in social work: An introduction, Sage, London

Bowles, W. (2007) Ethical practice in social work: An applied approach, Allen & Unwin, London

Buchanan, A. and Brock, D. (1989) Deciding for others: The ethics of surrogate decision making, University Press, Cambridge

Millam, R. (2002) Anti-discriminatory practice, Continuum International Publishing Group, London

New Webster’s Dictionary & Thesaurus of the English Language (1992) Lexicon Publications, Connecticut

O’Connor, I., Hughes, M., Setterlund, D., Turney, D., Wilson, J. (2006) Social work and social care practice, Sage, London