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Some Recent Engineering Ethics Cases That Have Come to the IEEE
Secondary Title Some Recent Engineering Ethics Cases That Have Come to the IEEE



Author(s) Stephen H. Unger
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IEEE Cases 1999 - Infants Under Pressure

Sam Wilson, an experienced engineer was employed by MedTech, a company that made medical equipment. An important line of products were respirators, used in hospitals. A colleague of Sam asked him to check out one of these respirators, one designed for infant use. He soon determined that a relief valve intended to protect against overpressure being applied to the infant's lungs was incorrectly placed, so that, under certain circumstances, the infant could experience dangerously high pressure. Correcting the error would not be difficult, since all that was needed was to reposition the relief valve. In similar circumstances in the past, Sam had seen such problems handled with dispatch. He called the matter to the attention of the appropriate manager and assumed that it would be taken care of.

A month or so later (Sam was not directly involved with this particular device) he learned that nothing had been done. Hundreds of these devices were already in use, and Sam was concerned about the increasing likelihood of a tragic event. He went back to the manager and urged him to take appropriate action. When the manager fended him off, Sam said that if prompt measures were not taken to correct the problem he would have to report it to the cognizant regulatory agency. The response of MedTech was to fire Sam. Apparently the then current president of MedTech did not have the same attitude toward product quality that had been prevalent in the past.

At about the same time, the respirator problem was identified by a physician who had encountered one in hospital practice. Sam brought suit against MedTech for wrongful discharge, claiming that his actions in calling attention to the problem were mandated by the code of ethics that binds professional engineers. Sam is a licensed PE.

Various management changes have since occurred and the legal process is slowly moving along.


From:  Some Recent Engineering Ethics Cases That Have Come to the IEEE

Author:  Stephen H. Unger

Columbia University

Presented at the OEC International Conference on Ethics in Engineering and Computer Science, March 1999


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Cite this page: "IEEE Cases 1999 - Infants Under Pressure" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 7/27/2009 OEC Accessed: Saturday, August 17, 2019 <>