Monetizing life may be the ethical thing to do

Alejandro Salado, Andrew Katz

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Engineering endeavors require professional engineers to face and resolve myriad ethical conflicts. Many of those conflicts emerge when facing monetization of life. The design and definition of safety features in products and the definition of reliability targets for an airplane are just a few examples of engineering situations in which monetizing life is necessary. However, placing a monetary value on life can feel uneasy to many people. It is almost as if linking dollars with life and death is “bad,” and should not even be discussed. Yet, because impossibility of failure and undefeatable safety cannot be achieved, monetizing life is an unavoidable activity in contemporary engineering work. In fact, contrary to the visceral reaction that some people have, we will show in this paper that monetizing life might actually be the only ethical thing to do in engineering projects and what this may mean for engineering education. In this paper, we will present students' solutions to engineering assignments that lead to ethical dilemmas in an industrial engineering class at the senior level. These student responses display a general unpreparedness to handle such conflicts effectively or with any ideological consistency. In addition, the results suggest that students' lack of techniques and tools to approach these problems may have a more detrimental consequence. Specifically, engineering students with strong ethical principles end up making decisions that are completely misaligned and contradictory with their ethical preferences. In fact, many students are not even aware of the unethical consequences their decisions have; they actually think that they have a high ethical standard yet fail to recognize the counterintuitive implications of the position they support on the presumed moral high ground. Finally, we will show how using engineering modeling and monetization of life results in properly tackling the ethical conflict and enable engineering students to align their decisions with their ethical preferences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 15 2019
Externally publishedYes
Event126th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Charged Up for the Next 125 Years, ASEE 2019 - Tampa, United States
Duration: Jun 15 2019Jun 19 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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