Case Study: The Overcrowded Life Boat Analysis

For this given case study, I selected the case study titled “The Overcrowded Life Boat”, and there are a number of important issues and aspects that are being discussed here. The first of these issues is the notion that there seems to be some level of discrimination that is inherent in this case and this is based on the how strong or weak a person is. This is a particular case that comes to show that back in 1842, a ship has suffered an accident and now there is a life boat but it can only carry 7 people in it but there are a total of 30 survivors.  What has to be seen here is that it is the captain who is in charge of making a number of important decisions but what the captain seems to propose is that some of the people would have to jump from the boat and drown so that others could survive.  In other words, what the captain is doing is taking the lives of some of the people at the expense of others who he wants to save.

The ethical reasoning that the captain has made here is that the weak citizens are the ones who should jump from the life boat because they would die anyways.  However, the citizens on the boat don’t agree with this decision because essentially what the captain is doing is that he is committing murder and that is both wrong, unfair and unjust.  I also very much agree with the decision of the citizens which is simply to take all of the survivors on the boat and so if something goes wrong, no one then would be blamed for the deaths of the citizens.

I also feel that this is one of those ethical dilemmas where it becomes more important to ensure that the right universal ethics are applied at all times and this equates to the notion of providing the right sort of treatment to all of the 30 survivors of this life boat rather than picking and choosing the 7 citizens to be saved.  The goal here is that even if we apply other ethical theories such as that of the Virtue Ethics or that of Utilitarian theory, the end result is that they all want to put the right, equal and fair treatment towards everyone rather than giving preferential treatment towards some and not so good treatment towards others.  Therefore, this is a case that really comes to show that there should be full-fledged application of universal ethics at all times by giving every single survivor the chance to be on the life boat and so either they all live or they all die together.  The captain’s decision is one that is very biased and he simply wants to save the lives of the few at the expense of others and therefore, he is going against the concept of virtue ethics or that of universal ethics.

To a large extent, the universal ethics does seem to be a good theory to apply because one of its most underlying concepts has to do with the notion of ensuring that there are fair and also very consistent rules in place in affording the right but also the most ethical treatment when working with other citizens. I believe that there should be comprehensive application of Universal Ethics and by doing that, every citizen would be treated in an equal and most fair manner and therefore, there wouldn’t be disparate treatment of different citizens based on who they are but they should all be treated as equal human beings.

There are a number of important actions that should also be seen here.  These actions are on the lines of having fair, proper, as well as equal treatment of all people and not having any bias in decision making. So, this case is best worked with when using the Universal Ethics theory because this is a theory that ensures fair and comprehensive equal standards to be applied to all people. One could also apply one of the other ethical theories such as Utilitarian or the Virtue Ethics theory because they all come to imply that most of the benefits should be given to most of the citizens.  At the same time and in line with the virtue ethics theory, the goal here is to see that the right and ethical standards should be put at all times.


Andrew W. Ghillyer.  Business Ethics Now, 2013, McGraw Hill Education