Life Wellbeing From cheating to snitching on COVID rule-breakers, this hotline helps solve your dilemmas
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From cheating to snitching on COVID rule-breakers, this hotline helps solve your dilemmas

ethics hotline
Got an ethical dilemma? These people will help you answer it. Photo: Getty
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Should I report a neighbour breaking COVID rules?

Should I tell my partner that I’m cheating, knowing it will affect my relationships with my kids?

Should I sneak into a major hospital to hug my mum, despite the no-visitor rule?

Chris recently experienced that last dilemma. His mum was undergoing a life-threatening stem cell transplant for a persistent cancer, and he was her donor.

Every day, he had waved up to her through the hospital window. They FaceTimed, he sent up gift packages; the weekend paper, a custard tart.

But he hadn’t said a proper goodbye before she went in. And after the surgery, she would have to isolate for a month.

“Basically, she was being taken to another hospital for radiation, and even though we knew it wasn’t allowed for her to see anyone, we made the decision I would go and sneak in,” he told The New Daily. 

Chris knew he was COVID negative – he had done a test the day before and had been alone in his apartment.

“But it was definitely stretching the rules because she’s immunocompromised and there’s an outbreak at the hospital,” he said.

“I made the decision to go in, because both of us were about to embark on a phenomenal medical journey, particularly Mum. It is really risky.

“And I just worried, will I ever see her again?”

Helping you take control

Every day, we make ethical decisions: Of all the options and repercussions presented to us, we have to work out which is best.

These are the decisions that Ethi-call counsellor and head of the Ethics Alliance Cris Parker helps people navigate.

She works with 20 other volunteers to help people across Australia find solutions to their ethical dilemmas.

“It puts you in this binary position where you feel really stuck – you have to choose between this and that,” Ms Parker said.

“So part of that process is to [test] as many options as possible.”

The Sydney-based hotline has been running for more than 30 years, but they recently doubled the number of counsellors on staff in response to growing demand.

For up to an hour, Ms Parker will walk each caller through a set of questions that help them arrive at their decision.

“We ask, ‘What are your duties in your situations? What are your obligations? Whose rights are involved here?'” she said.

“It opens up all these perspectives, which provide more opportunities for reflection.

“The joy is you hold no judgment, none whatsoever.

“My role is not to moralise, or to tell you what is right or wrong.

“It’s all about enabling the caller to determine what is right for them.”

Our burning questions

Ms Parker said the majority of questions are unrelated to COVID-19.

Callers have rung up to discuss if they should prioritise self-care and their mental health over their kids, or if they should tell a prospective employer that they’re pregnant.

They’ve asked if they should report the domestic abuse suffered by a close friend, or whether they should monitor their son’s social media out of fear for his mental health.

A small business owner recently asked if she should let her staff go after realising the company was struggling, while one boss asked if he should monitor his employees because he was worried about how hard they worked at home.

“There’s a lot of calls around wills and complex family issues,” Ms Parker said.

“Calls around the end of life, like, ‘Do I put my mother in an aged-care facility when I promised her I would never do that?'”

“There are also a lot of calls about relationships with children, what is the right thing to do around privacy reactions … how much parents should protect their children while making sure they are experiencing life.”

Ms Parker stressed Ethi-call is not a psychology service but rather a structured and practical problem-solving model.

It is for people to access when it seems like the right decision is impossible to make or decision paralysis is affecting them, she said.

Some callers like the privacy – being able to talk about difficult issues with someone unconnected to the situation – while others find the service helpful because the responses are unbiased.

“Part of the questioning is, ‘If you talked to someone you admired, what might they say?’” Ms Parker said.

“Often people say, ‘I have asked my friends but they tell me what I want to hear’.

“They want objective help, or they’re not speaking openly with people in their real world about it.”

Even when the caller is revealing something confronting, Ms Parker said she is just there to listen and ask questions.

“It is a privilege. So if it gets hard, you just remind yourself of the service you’re providing,” she said.

“It’s not about fixing it. That is special.”

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