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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Professional Ethics

Every field presents its own ethical challenges. At the Ethics Center, we call these the “unavoidable ethical dilemmas” of the profession.

Our training offers professionals a framework for confronting those dilemmas. Tracy Coleman, a deputy public guardian for Santa Clara County, participated in our recent workshop for conservators, those who have decision-making authority for incapacitated people with no friends or family to serve as their surrogate.

Tracy Coleman

When Coleman became a deputy public guardian 16 years ago, her focus was almost entirely on the financial abuse of the clients in her care. But it didn’t take long for Coleman to see that her responsibilities were going to be even greater than she thought. She would have to help make life and death medical decisions, which can be particularly difficult for public guardians because they are brought into a case when patients are already incapacitated and often unable to communicate their wishes.

“We had policies and protocols,” Coleman says, “but we didn’t have any guidance. Because I didn’t really understand the process of dying and I didn’t understand the ethical ramifications, I didn’t have a foundation to be part of the decision making.”

For Coleman, help came in the form of a training program for public guardians sponsored by the Ethics Center. Through that program, Coleman learned how to piece together some indications of what a patient might want, a key aspect of the autonomy at the heart of many medical ethics decisions. Because the training included discussion of the medical aspects of dying, Coleman felt more equipped to evaluate the impact of treatments like CPR and intubation on a patient’s quality of life. She felt more comfortable in assessing and advocating for the best interests of her client.

“We’re the voice of the voiceless,” she says.


“These MOOCs provide a great wide-angle view of ethics. Having the opportunity to learn from business leaders in a masterfully guided course, I hope to gain stronger and more intelligent insight into securing ethical practices.” —J.R. Hall, MOOC participant

More Stories on Professional Ethics

Barbara Herlihy, estate administrator for the Santa Clara County Public Guardian’s Office, found the Center’s training offered a sensitive, compassionate approach to ascertaining values and wishes for a very vulnerable population, to make sure that their end-of-life stage provides them with the dignity and respect they deserve. 

Mike E. and Mary Ellen Fox have invested in the Center’s professional ethics training programs for government officials, including the MOOC, How to Run an Ethical Political Campaign—and Win!

Center Programs in Professional Ethics

The Center’s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on business ethics have been taken by thousands of professionals around the world. They have also been incorporated into the business curriculum of three Catholic/Jesuit universities: Sogang University in Korea, St. Aloysius College in India, and Marquette University in Milwaukee.

The Government Ethics Academy trains local officials on California’s ethics laws and the important principles behind them. The Center also leads ethics training sessions for state legislative leaders.

Teachers in traditional, alternative, and parochial schools receive training through the Center’s Ethics Camps and workshops on how to infuse character education into their classrooms.

Working with local hospitals, the Center’s Bioethics Program has developed model policies on difficult issues in bioethics, such as organ donation after circulatory death and medically ineffective interventions.

The Center engages professionals while they are still in training. Through our Internet Ethics Program, we offer a module on software engineering ethics for college engineering students. Similar modules on cybersecurity and big data ethics are planned.

Professional Ethics Infographic