City Hires Ethicist for Hard Choices

Like many U.S. municipalities, Alexandria, Virginia, is facing financial cuts. But in an unusual move, city officials hired ethicist Michael A. Gillette to assist them in approaching the city’s budget as a moral document. “In times of fiscal stress, localities are forced to say ‘no’ to some programs that do good work for people in need. The judgments made around these types of decisions are just as much ethical as they are financial or political,” Gillette, president of Bioethical Services of Virginia Inc., told Sojourners.

Examples of the difficult decisions faced by Alexandria policymakers, reported The Washington Post, are whether to convert apartments built for the mentally ill into temporary housing for the disabled, and cutting back drug-prevention funds but maintaining methadone availability. “By carefully cataloguing and prioritizing ethical values such as prior commitments, severity of need, efficiency, and effectiveness,” Gillette said, “we can develop a clear ethical picture of the obligations that an organization or local governing body has to its constituents. This is the beginning of sound moral reasoning, and I am hopeful that other localities will engage in similar discussions.”

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