The Codes of Ethics of the Canadian Psychological Assocation of the Canadian Medical Association: Ethical Orientation and Functional Grammar Analysis

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Abstract

The Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists (Canadian Psychological Association, CPA, 2000) has been the subject of several recent investigations. This work has focused, for example, on the validity of its hierarchical organization of ethical principles. In the present research, we subjected the code to both a content and a functional grammar analysis. Our content analysis was aimed at determining the theoretical ethical orientation (i.e., deontological, teleological or caring) of each statement in the document, while the functional grammar analysis provided information about implicit messages embedded within the code. We contrasted the results of our analysis with those of previous work on the code of ethics adopted by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). We concluded that, compared to CMA's code, the CPA document has greater educational value, is less authoritarian, provides a clear rationale for ethical behaviour, and is more empowering to the decision-maker. We argue that the results of our functional grammar and content analyses have implications for future attempts to improve ethics codes for psychology and other professions.

Many organizations and most national professional associations have adopted codes of ethics. Such documents serve an educational function (e.g., O'Neill, 1998) and communicate important expectations to the membership of these organizations. Codes also serve to facilitate a profession's ability to self-regulate. They may also function as a means by which members can question their own personal values as they relate to their professional role (Meyer, 1987). Externally, codes of ethics assure the public, clients, and other stakeholders that members of a profession are competent, have a high level of integrity, and are able to enforce high moral standards (Pettifor, 1996). Codes of ethics also help professionals commit publicly and explicitly to their association's values, norms, beliefs, and philosophy and make them accountable (Dunbar, 1998; Pettifor, 1996).

The Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists (Canadian Psychological Association, 1986, 2000) was designed to incorporate the collective wisdom of Canadian psychologists (Sinclair, Poisner, GilmourBarrett, & Randall, 1987). Sinclair et al. (1987) described the methodology that was used in the code's development. Briefly, the process involved the creation of 37 vignettes describing hypothetical ethical dilemmas. The dilemmas related to the ethical principles that were articulated in the 1977 edition of the code adopted by the American Psychological Association (APA, 1977). They also involved conflicts between ethical principles as well as psychological practice issues and situations involving innovative but untested approaches. Sinclair et al. formulated questions to elicit self-accepted ethical principles. They asked 400 Canadian psychologists to each respond to a series of questions about a portion of the vignettes. One hundred and twenty-five agreed to participate but only 59 responses were received. The researchers submitted these responses to a content analysis that focused on the reasons provided for the courses of action selected by the respondents. They organized the relevant statements into categories that reflected superordinate ethical principles. The resulting document consisted of four fundamental ethical principles (Respect for the Dignity of Persons, Responsible Caring, Integrity in Relationships, and Responsibility to Society). A consultative process with provincial regulatory bodies supported the validity of the document. Although the code has since undergone revisions, it still is based largely on the original document and its four fundamental ethical principles (CPA, 2000).

The CPA (1986, 2000) code has received plenty of praise for its coherence, organization, and unique features (e.g., Booth, 1998; Dixon, 1998; Hadjistavropoulos & Malloy, 2000; Sinclair, 1998; Wassenaar, 1998); however, empirical research (e. …