Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 223–233 | Cite as

Technology and ethical dilemmas in a medical setting: Privacy, professional autonomy, life and death

  • Gloria Lankshear
  • David MasonEmail author


A growing literature addresses the ethicalimplications of electronic surveillance atwork, frequently assigning ethical priority tovalues such as the ‘right to privacy’. Thispaper suggests that, in practice, the issuesare sociologically more complex than someaccounts suggest. This is because manyworkplace electronic technologies not designedor deployed for surveillance purposesnevertheless embody surveillance capacity. Thiscapacity may not be immediately obvious toparticipants or lend itself to simpledeployment. Moreover, because of their primaryfunctions, such systems embody a range of otherfeatures which are potentially beneficial forthose utilising them. As a result, more complexethical dilemmas emerge as different desired ‘goods’ compete for priority in thedecision-making of individuals and groups. From a sociological point of view this raisesinteresting questions about the way ethicaldilemmas arise in the context of the ongoingsocial relationships of work. The paperexplores these issues using data from a studyof the development and implementation of acomputerised instructional package in amaternity setting. This medical settingillustrates clearly how seeking to assignethical priority to a particular concern, suchas the ‘right to privacy’, cannot butoversimplify the real day to day dilemmasencountered by participants. At the same time,the example of the instructional packagedemonstrates that it is difficult to predict inadvance what ethical issues will be raised bytechnologies that almost always turn out tohave a range of capabilities beyond thoseenvisaged in their original designspecification.


Information System User Interface Ethical Issue Human Computer Interaction Ethical Dilemma 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of PlymouthPlymouthUK
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of PlymouthPlymouthUK

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