The Moral Responsibility of Engineers Suicide Barriers

1. What should engineers do to prevent or discourage such actions Is it their moral responsibility to do it, or merely a scientific matter of managing and maintaining rapid traffic flow

Suicide is a moral issue that is usually being discussed in engineering ethics because it usually occurs in places and structures that engineers designed. The scenario maintained other deaths occur in bridges and high places aside from suicides. The case study mentioned that some kill themselves after killing or hurting someone.

Engineers are responsible for designing the structures that seems to attract suicidal persons. However, they are not responsible for the thought of suicide itself. Engineers, analyze their tentative designs for adequacy of performance, strength and safety. In doing so, it is the engineers official responsibility to make sure that they make proper use of their knowledge. This means that the design they made must be paralleled with the expectations made by their employers. In their design they are committing themselves and in a way promising that, their design would serve the needs of the employers. Therefore, if the engineer was asked to make a safe and secure structure, they are officially responsible if such safety is not met. In connection to this, engineering ethics asserts that the decisions, policies, and values made by engineers must be morally desirable in engineering practice and research. These denote that engineers, by profession must take into consideration the moral implication of their actions.

In the advent of suicides and deaths that occur in the structures that engineers built, the discouragement and the prevention are not part of the engineers official or professional responsibility. Instead, it could be a part of their moral responsibility to ensure public safety. Moral responsibility is composed of the duty or obligation of the person towards a person or a group of person that would be affected by the actions heshe had made.

Hans Leck made a more specific delineation between official and moral responsibilities. According to him, moral responsibility is not transferrable it cannot be delegated to others or be dissolved. It is something universal. This entails that the responsibility is attached to the act and not to the person. Therefore, a person is morally responsible to every act he made.

This implies two things. First, engineers are morally responsible for the design they made and its possible consequences. Second, the suicidal person is morally responsible for his her action. If the person would really like to die, heshe might consider jumping on cliffs or by hanging himherself. As indicated in the study, only 2 of the 30,000 deaths by suicide were done by jumping off. Including this into the analysis, if the deaths of the person are caused by the faulty design then the engineers are morally responsible. However, if the deaths are caused by the persons personal decision then engineers are not morally responsible. If this is the case, then preventing and discouraging deaths on structures designed by engineers (such as bridges and skyways) must be done to maintain and manage the rapid traffic flow.

2. How much will suicide prevention devices or procedures cost, and how effective are they Is the result justified, or worth the price How will you sell the idea to taxpayers, voters and public officials
Osteler (2001), from the San Francisco Chronicle, explained that there were several methods done to mitigate the increasing numbers of suicide in the Golden Gate such as asking the iron workers to be more vigilant and try to prevent people from jumping off the bridge. Nonetheless, the occurrence of suicide remained high. Henry Petroski called this as the paradox of engineering and design (200695). The design of the current Golden Gate Bridge somehow failed to consider the possibility of attracting jumpers. If the original design already has suicide precautions, then it would not be a problem today. However, this probably, despite how imaginative the engineer might have been was not foreseeable. According to the report made by the Psychiatric Foundation of Northern California, suicide barriers had been effective in the prevention of further deaths in other bridges and skyscrapers such as the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia and in the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

In limiting the discussion on a specific case --that of the Golden Gate Bridge, the cost and effectiveness of the prevention device could be shown. In April 22, 2005, the board of director agreed on the criteria that the Suicide Deterrent System must possess to be adopted. The prevention device must ultimately impede the ability of the individual to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Furthermore, it must not produce hazards or nuisance to people using the bridge. It must not have negative impacts on the wind stability and aesthetic impacts of the bridge. In addition, the bridge must continue to uphold the rules, laws and previous security after the construction of the prevention devices. Recently, in February 10, 2010, the Golden Gate Bridge Highway  Transportation District agreed and certified the use of the Net System as the preferred alternative.

The reason why Golden Gate Bridge is very attractive for suicidal people is due to its ability to kill instantly, considering the distance between the bridge and the water. The Net System would be below the bridge and would reduce the persons desire to commit suicide because the person would fall to the Net instead of the water. If the person still decide to jump off after jumping into the Net System and acquiring some minor injuries, the distance between the water and the bridge would be reduced. The research and studies to complete the final design of the Net System approximately costs 5 million. The amount of the construction itself was estimated to be 45 million. The source of the funds are yet unknown but the Boards of Directors assured that it would not come from the Bridge toll revenues.

The construction of the suicide barriers may not really decrease suicide attempts and deaths. As stated above, the person might jump off a cliff or any other high places instead. Moreover, the person could also try other forms of suicide such as overdosing, poisoning or hanging oneself. Nonetheless, the study made by Richard Seiden showed that 94 of the people stopped in their suicide attempt had not reconsider suicide as an option (Glassglow). This assessment justified the use of suicide barriers in decreasing the number of suicide attempts done at the Golden Gate Bridge.

Although, I personally believed that the price is unjustified. Selling the idea to the taxpayers, voters and public officials is very hard. Even with the presentation of statistical data showing that 87 of the jumpers are residents of the Bay Area, this would not convinced them about the necessity of spending 5 million to simply prevent people from jumping off.

As explained, people who decided to commit suicide could think of other ways to do the act other than jumping off. Instead of creating a Net System, one could place a roof over the pedestrian path. Although this might affect the aesthetic form of the bridge, it would do little to affect its popularity and tourist attractiveness. It would shield the pedestrians from rain and sun as well. I might be able to convince the public about the importance and the worth of the Net System if the payment would not come from tax revenues. If the public would not be spending for the creation of the Net System, there would be less contention about the justification of the suicide barrier.

3. Suppose the suicide rate increases, despite elaborate precautions. Will that change your logic, views, or professional conduct

An increase rate of deaths by suicide would definitely change my views regarding the necessity of suicide barriers. The suicide rate might have increased because people would try to use other available forms of suicide instead. For example, instead of jumping off the bridge, they might opt to drink poison. This is more economical and accessible since there are various lethal oral substances available in the over-the-counter market.

The increase rate could also indicate that the psychological source of the problem is not resolved by merely demonstrating the futility of jumping off certain areas like bridges, skyways and skyscrapers. The root cause of suicide is psychological, thus, the prevention must address this cause. Engineers may not be directly responsible for the increase in suicide rate. However, the failure of the intervention corresponds to a failure in the assessment of the scenario.

I firmly believed that the prevention of the act of suicide is not the moral responsibility of engineers. Engineers must simply not promote the act. Engineers must make sure that their design accounts for the safety of the public and the consumers. If the product or structure would be used other than its intended purpose, the accountability would be on the consumer not the engineering. For instance, if the engineer designed a bridge with only 2 ft. cyclone railings, then any deaths associated from falling from the bridge would be the fault of the engineer. However, if the railings are made of steel, more than 4 ft. high and could prevent any fall from the bridge, then any other death from the bridge is either intentional or accidental and in no way the engineers fault and beyond the engineers moral responsibility.


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