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Was it Ethical for Susan G. Komen to Flip-Flop?

flip flops . / Credit: Flip Flop image via Shutterstock

Whether you call it saving face, flip-flopping or making a U-turn on a issue, changing your mind frequently has a negative backlash associated with it. Those who need proof can look to two examples in the past week that confirm just how much the public dislikes the act of flip-flopping. The question is…is it ethical to change your stance on an issue if you stand to gain from the outcome?

The question came to the fore this week when the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, changed its position on funding Planned Parenthood. After suffering a backlash, the organization was forced to grapple with a huge outcry and threats of diminished donations. Many people were left wondering why exactly the leading breast cancer research charity would pull the funding.  Many critics felt it had bowed to pressure from anti-abortion groups, since Planned Parenthood also provides abortions. Eventually, after much media attention and public outcry, the charity decided to reverse its ruling and continue funding Planned Parenthood. 

A second example of a high-profile figure changing his position on an issue in an effort to benefit from the switch, came this week when President Barack Obama when he announced that he would support a political action committee (PAC) called Priorities USA that was supporting his reelection bid.  These PACs are allowed to spend an unlimited amount of money in their support of a candidate's election provided they do not speak or plan with the campaign to which they are donating money.  The move by the president is drawing some ire as he had previously been opposed to these PACs, calling them "shadowy groups" that were a "threat to our democracy," as was noted by Mark McKinnon in an article posted on The Daily Beast.

BusinessNewsDaily asked two ethics experts to help us understand whether it's ethical for a business owner, politician or anyone else to rethink their position on an issue when it benefits their cause.

"The key issue here is integrity. Integrity really matters—it is critical to ethical behavior and is a key driver of trust," said Brian Moriarty of the Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business."Given this significance, careful consideration should be given to the facts before concluding whether someone possesses or lacks integrity. As people examine the integrity of these decisions, hopefully careful consideration will be given to the facts before making final judgments."

While integrity may be at the core of this matter, the decision-making process in the above situations is clouded by the fact that there is not a definitive right or wrong answer to the questions. Therefore, the two above examples raise the question of whether or not it is ethical to change your stance on an issue for your own gain?

 According to Virginia Maurer, director of the Poe Center for Business Ethics at the University of Florida, the answer wholly lies in the reason for making the change.

"It is definitely ethical to change your position if you are persuaded that you are wrong, whether it is to your benefit or not," said Maurer, a professor of business law and legal studies. "Some ethical decisions are no-brainers, but most business ethics decisions are complex and ambiguous and require balancing ethical goods that are, in context, in conflict.  If you are in the public eye, you must be transparent and honest about why you made a decision and why you have decided it was not a good one."

"Is That Ethical?" is a BusinessNewsDaily series in which we examine the ethics of business and acknowledge the ethical dilemmas businesses face every day.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily staff writer David Mielach at Follow him on Twitter @D_M89.