Managing complexity: An integration of ethics, management, and technology viewed through the Dow Corning silicone implant case

Patricia Jane Tod, Salve Regina University


This dissertation is a contextual examination of an ethical organizational dilemma complicated by elaborate and interrelated systems or soft technologies. Dow Corning's silicone breast implant case is analyzed by example, to show the usefulness of a more varied, flexible, and multi-faceted approach to ethics and management in the midst of a rapidly expanding technological society. This case represents an ongoing managerial crisis that demonstrates why integrated ethical analysis is not a theoretical or historical practice but one of vital and critical social importance. Through qualitative analysis, this study addresses an ethical and managerial crisis from three broad perspectives of ethics, technology, and organizations. The ethical analysis is based on the three constructs of rule ethics, consequence ethics, and virtue ethics. The systems technologies reviewed are the medical system, the legal system, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the media, and the consumer groups. Finally, as this research provides insights for practical and ethical management, an organizational analysis is included that views corporations as machines, systems, and cultures. The multi-faceted organizational and ethical assessment used in this study enhances the creative and disciplined thought required in today's generally complex, ambiguous, and paradoxical business environment. The Dow Coming silicone implant case demonstrates how systems technologies in an insular rules-based culture caused a corporation reputed for high ethical principles to suffer bankruptcy for alleged unethical and illegal conduct. An organizational culture based predominantly on rules and consequences requires decision-makers with broad perspectives on moral character and virtue. Managers need broader ways of understanding organizational life to better prepare a corporation for both ethical and financial success in today's rapidly changing technological society. A holistic perspective provides extensions of ethical understanding and development, opportunities to ensure stakeholder rights, and increased probabilities for organizational survival and growth.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Management|Public health

Recommended Citation

Tod, Patricia Jane, "Managing complexity: An integration of ethics, management, and technology viewed through the Dow Corning silicone implant case" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI9940064.