318: Professional Ethics
Outline of Armstrong Essay
ISSUE: How do we justify the secrecy and protection of harmful information in professional life? We often place ourselves in conflict with the duty of advancing the public interest, and the duty to do no harm.
Secrecy = blocking access to
Problem: Keeping information secret (no public access) or confidential (not sharing what a particular person has said) often produces harm.
Two methods of justification:
DEONTOLOGICAL and UTILITARIAN.
PRIMA FACIE DUTIES are our basic prescriptive norms (i.e., morally binding rules). However, "prima facie" means "at first look." A second look will often reveal conflicts among our duties, in which case we must examine the particular case to determine which duty must be waived or relaxed.
Two basic kinds of duties: Positive and negative.
When a positive duty to help society conflicts with a negative duty (don't violate confidentiality), the balance normally shifts to the following the negative duty and setting aside the positive duty. BUT NOT ALWAYS!
So what are the duties that matter here?
FOUR RULES WHICH TOGETHER LET US PURSUE POSITIVE DUTY:
[MY COMMENT: This list leaves out a fifth condition that is normally put on such cases: we can't do a wrong thing as our means to doing the good thing -- it (the infringement)can only be a side effect of doing something else.]
GENERAL RESULTING RULE: Do not violate confidentially unless there is a VERY high probability (approaching certainty) that a failure to do so will result in MAJOR harm, the nature and severity of which are clear.
1. Medical Professionals
The AMA prioritizes confidentiality
above avoidance of harm. Doctors should violate patient confidentiality
ONLY if required by law. Example: If a psychotherapist/psychiatrist
believes that a patient may harm someone, the therapist should not
breach confidentiality. In response, many states now require therapists
to warn potential victims of foreseeable harm.
Safety and well-being of the public
Two basic types of CPA: external (outside auditors, insuring veracity in reporting & bookkeeping) and internal (keeping the records for the company). The external insure are there to "police" and advise the internal.
Problem: It's all about MONEY. Constant pressure to break the rules, and even to be rewarded for breaking the rules.
Code for CPAs dictates a positive duty to protect the public. However, they also have a negative duty of confidentiality. In practice, the public is protected only if the client explicitly consents or there is a legal obligation. Informing the public is effectively blocked.
Last updated June 5, 2015