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When students are studying ethics, it can help to have some specific examples to work with in terms of figuring out what is right and wrong. This lesson offers some topics that will inspire students in writing papers about ethical dilemmas.

Writing About Ethical Dilemmas

Are you trying to help your students learn more about ethics and why they are important? One way to do this is by offering them actual ethical dilemmas to think and write about.

When students write papers about ethical dilemmas, they will be challenged to weigh different sides of the situation and look at things from different perspectives. Then, they may be able to make a sensible determination in terms of how to approach a dilemma ethically.

The prompts in this lesson are designed to help students think deeply about ethical dilemmas in a variety of different fields. For each topic, you will want students to research or reflect on different possible approaches, define the ethical conundrums, and take a stand about what they think the ethical decision would be.

Educational Ethics

The prompts in this section will force students to think about ethical dilemmas in education.

  • Imagine that you are a teacher and you’re pretty sure one of your students has been cheating. At the same time, you know that this student is actually really smart and is going through a difficult time in his home life. What are the ethical issues at hand and how would you deal with this situation?
  • Write an essay about the ethical obligation of teachers to share stories about students’ misbehavior with families, even if they think the families will be unduly punitive toward the students. Describe the dilemma and weigh in with what you believe is the right approach.
  • Some members of a university community are protesting a visiting lecturer who has what they consider offensive political views. Others are saying that this is an issue of freedom of speech. Describe the ethical dilemmas and possible solutions for university administrators.

Medical Ethics

Here, you will find topics that get students thinking about ethics in the medical fields.

  • A patient has a chronic illness that causes great suffering but will not lead to death. The patient tells her medical provider that she is suffering so much that she wants to die and in fact is probably going to kill herself. What are the ethical dilemmas and issues the provider must contend with?
  • A doctor is seeing patients in a primary care setting. This doctor is Jewish, but few of her patients know that. One patient rolls up his sleeve for an exam, revealing a tattoo of a swastika. Describe the ethical dilemma now facing the doctor, clinic administrators, and patients, and determine what you consider the ethical approach to this situation.
  • A group of doctors have decided that they want to limit their prescriptions of opioids, but patients continue to demand them. One doctor learns that some patients respond very well to placebos in place of the usual narcotics. What is the ethical dilemma involved in giving a patient a placebo without him or her knowing? What is the right approach to this situation?

Research Ethics

This section offers prompts to encourage students in thinking and writing about ethics in research.

  • A researcher runs into one of his or her subjects in public, and the subject says hello and begins a personal conversation. What is the dilemma involved in this situation and how should the researcher respond?
  • Someone is conducting a study on human subjects. They receive consent from 19 participants although they needed 20. They are really frustrated and just want to move the study forward. What are the ethical issues involved, and what should this person do?

Relationship Ethics

Finally, these more personal topics will get students thinking about the ethical dilemmas in personal relationships.

  • Imagine that you think your sister’s child (your niece or nephew) has medical or psychological needs that your sister and her husband are not addressing. What are the ethics that come into play when you think about involving yourself? What is the right thing to do?
  • Think about the classic situation in which you catch your best friend’s girl/boyfriend cheating on him/her. What are the issues involved in this situation? What is the most ethical approach, in your opinion?


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12 Interesting Ethical Topics for Essay Papers

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12 Interesting Ethical Topics for Essay Papers




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A young boy being bullied at school.
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by
Grace Fleming



Grace Fleming has a masters in education and is an academic advisor, college enrollment counselor, and freelance writer on study skills.

Updated October 27, 2018

Writing a persuasive essay requires identifying interesting ethical topics, and these options might inspire you to create a powerful and engaging essay, position paper , or speech for your next assignment.

Should Teens Have Plastic Surgery?

Good looks are highly prized in our society. You can see advertisements everywhere urging you to buy products that will supposedly enhance your appearance. While many products are topical, plastic surgery is probably the ultimate game-changer. Going under the knife to enhance your looks can be a quick fix and help you achieve the look you desire. It also carries risks and can have lifelong consequences. Consider whether you think teens—who are still developing into mature individuals—should have the right to make such a big decision at such a young age, or if their parents should be able to decide for them.

Would you tell if you saw a popular kid bullying?

Bullying is a big problem in schools and even in society in general. But it can be difficult to show courage, step up—and step in—if you see a popular kid bullying someone at school. Would you report it if you saw this happening? Why or why not?

Would You Speak Up If Your Friend Abused an Animal?

Animal abuse by youngsters can foreshadow more violent acts as these individuals grow up. Speaking up might save the animal pain and suffering today and it might steer that person away from more violent acts in the future. But would you have the courage to do so? Why or why not?

Would You Tell If You Saw a Friend Cheating on a Test?

Courage can come in subtle forms, and that can include reporting seeing someone cheat on a test. Cheating on a test might not seem like such a big deal; perhaps you’ve cheated on a test yourself. But it is against the policies of schools and universities worldwide. If you saw someone cheating, would you speak up and tell the teacher? What if it was your buddy cheating and telling might cost you a friendship? Explain your stance.

Should News Stories Slant Toward What People Want to Hear?

There is much debate over whether the news should be unbiased or allow commentary. Newspapers, radios, and news television stations are businesses, just as much as a grocery store or online retailers. They need customers to survive, and that means appealing to what their customers want to hear or see. Slanting reports toward popular opinions could increase ratings and readership, in turn saving newspapers and news shows, as well as jobs. But is this practice ethical? What do you think?

Would You Tell If Your Best Friend Had a Drink at the Prom?

Most schools have strict rules about drinking at the prom, but many students still engage in the practice. After all, they’ll be graduating soon. If you saw a friend imbibing, would you tell or look the other way? Why?

Should Football Coaches Be Paid More Than Professors?

Football often brings in more money than any other single activity or program a school offers, including academic classes. In the corporate world, if a business is profitable, the CEO and those who contributed to the success are often rewarded handsomely. With that in mind, shouldn’t it be the same in academia? Should the top football coaches get paid more than the top professors? Why or why not?

Should Politics and Church Be Separate?

Candidates often invoke religion when they’re out campaigning. It’s generally a good way to attract votes. But should the practice be discouraged? The U.S. Constitution, after all, dictates that there should be a separation of church and state in this country. What do you think and why?

Would You Speak Up If You Heard an Ugly Ethnic Statement at a Party Filled With Popular Kids?

As in the previous examples, it can be hard to speak up, especially when an incident involves popular kids. Would you have the courage to say something and risk the ire of the popular crowd? Who would you tell?

Should Assisted Suicides Be Allowed for Terminally Ill Patients?

Some countries, like the Netherlands, allow assisted suicides, as do some U.S. states. Should “mercy killing” be legal for terminally ill patients who are suffering from great physical pain? What about patients whose diseases will negatively impact their families? Why or why not?

Should a Student’s Ethnicity Be a Consideration for College Acceptance?

There has been a long-standing debate about the role ethnicity should play in college acceptance. Proponents of affirmative action argue that underrepresented groups should be given a leg up. Opponents say that all college candidates should be judged on their merits alone. What do you think and why?

Should Companies Gather Information About Their Customers?

Information privacy is a big and growing issue. Every time you log onto the internet and visit an online retailer, news company, or social media site, companies gather information about you. Should they have the right to do so, or should the practice be banned? Why do you think so? Explain your answer.



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Ethical Dilemmas Paper Topics

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When students are studying ethics, it can help to have some specific examples to work with in terms of figuring out what is right and wrong. This lesson offers some topics that will inspire students in writing papers about ethical dilemmas.

Writing About Ethical Dilemmas

Are you trying to help your students learn more about ethics and why they are important? One way to do this is by offering them actual ethical dilemmas to think and write about.

When students write papers about ethical dilemmas, they will be challenged to weigh different sides of the situation and look at things from different perspectives. Then, they may be able to make a sensible determination in terms of how to approach a dilemma ethically.

The prompts in this lesson are designed to help students think deeply about ethical dilemmas in a variety of different fields. For each topic, you will want students to research or reflect on different possible approaches, define the ethical conundrums, and take a stand about what they think the ethical decision would be.

Educational Ethics

The prompts in this section will force students to think about ethical dilemmas in education.

  • Imagine that you are a teacher and you’re pretty sure one of your students has been cheating. At the same time, you know that this student is actually really smart and is going through a difficult time in his home life. What are the ethical issues at hand and how would you deal with this situation?
  • Write an essay about the ethical obligation of teachers to share stories about students’ misbehavior with families, even if they think the families will be unduly punitive toward the students. Describe the dilemma and weigh in with what you believe is the right approach.
  • Some members of a university community are protesting a visiting lecturer who has what they consider offensive political views. Others are saying that this is an issue of freedom of speech. Describe the ethical dilemmas and possible solutions for university administrators.

Medical Ethics

Here, you will find topics that get students thinking about ethics in the medical fields.

  • A patient has a chronic illness that causes great suffering but will not lead to death. The patient tells her medical provider that she is suffering so much that she wants to die and in fact is probably going to kill herself. What are the ethical dilemmas and issues the provider must contend with?
  • A doctor is seeing patients in a primary care setting. This doctor is Jewish, but few of her patients know that. One patient rolls up his sleeve for an exam, revealing a tattoo of a swastika. Describe the ethical dilemma now facing the doctor, clinic administrators, and patients, and determine what you consider the ethical approach to this situation.
  • A group of doctors have decided that they want to limit their prescriptions of opioids, but patients continue to demand them. One doctor learns that some patients respond very well to placebos in place of the usual narcotics. What is the ethical dilemma involved in giving a patient a placebo without him or her knowing? What is the right approach to this situation?

Research Ethics

This section offers prompts to encourage students in thinking and writing about ethics in research.

  • A researcher runs into one of his or her subjects in public, and the subject says hello and begins a personal conversation. What is the dilemma involved in this situation and how should the researcher respond?
  • Someone is conducting a study on human subjects. They receive consent from 19 participants although they needed 20. They are really frustrated and just want to move the study forward. What are the ethical issues involved, and what should this person do?

Relationship Ethics

Finally, these more personal topics will get students thinking about the ethical dilemmas in personal relationships.

  • Imagine that you think your sister’s child (your niece or nephew) has medical or psychological needs that your sister and her husband are not addressing. What are the ethics that come into play when you think about involving yourself? What is the right thing to do?
  • Think about the classic situation in which you catch your best friend’s girl/boyfriend cheating on him/her. What are the issues involved in this situation? What is the most ethical approach, in your opinion?


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