Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

A Philosophical Value Analysis of the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

A Philosophical Value Analysis of the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this paper was to explore, philosophically, the rationale for the ranking of the principles of the Canadian Psychologists' code of ethics. While this ranking has received some empirical support, it has yet to be grounded in theory. In order to overcome this conceptual deficiency, Hodgkinson's (1996) Value Paradigm was used as a critical framework for validating the hierarchical structure of the principles of the code. The analysis revealed general acceptance for the ranking. As a result, the code has gained not only the needed theoretical grounding for comprehensive support (i.e., theoretical and empirical) but also a more complete understanding of its content and axiological rationale.

The Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists was developed to reflect the "collective wisdom" of Canadian Psychologists (Sinclair, Poizner, Gilmour-Barrett & Randall, 1987). Sinclair et al. (1987) describe the methodology that was followed to develop the Canadian code. Specifically, 37 hypothetical ethical dilemmas representing the applied, teaching, and research functions of psychologists were prepared. These vignettes reflected all principles that were covered by the 1977 code of ethics of the American Psychological Association (APA, 1977), as well as conflicts between ethical principles, current areas and issues in psychological practice and situations that involved innovative, but untested, approaches and techniques. Each vignette was followed by six questions that were designed to elicit self-accepted ethical principles (e.g., "What is your choice of action? Why?", "What alternative choice(s) of action(s) did you consider? Why did you choose them?). Four hundred Canadian Psychologists were asked to participate in the study and the 125 who agreed were sent two or four hypothetical dilemmas. The responses of the 59 persons who replied underwent a content analysis that focussed on the reasons provided for the selection of a course of action. The statements were then organized into groups until each group seemed consistent with a superordinate principle.

The resulting document had four principles (Respect for the Dignity of Persons; Responsible Caring; Integrity in Relationships; and Responsibility to Society) each of which was accompanied by relevant values statements and standards. The principles were organized in order of importance in order to facilitate decision making in situations where conflict between principles exists. It appears, from the description of the process (Sinclair et al., 1987), that this hierarchical organization was based on survey participants' responses about situations in which the principles were in conflict. The standards were added to the principles largely based on pre-existing guidelines and reviews of the literature. Finally, the document underwent a consultative process (e.g., copies were sent to provincial regulatory bodies for feedback) that confirmed the principles and their hierarchical organization. The current code of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA, 1991) reflects the original document with very minor revisions.

The CPA code is now used widely and compares very favorably to codes adopted by other professional groups (Hadjistavropoulos, 1996). Of particular practical usefulness are the seven decision-making steps that are recommended by the code for situations in which ethical dilemmas are encountered. These are as follows: a) identification of ethically relevant issues and practices; b) development of alternative courses of action; c) analysis of short-term, ongoing, and long-term risks and benefits of each course of action; d) choice of course of action after conscientious application of existing, principles, values and standards; e) action, with a commitment to assume responsibility for the consequences of the action; f) evaluation of the results of the action; and g) assumption of responsibility for consequences of action, including correction of negative consequences, if any, or re-engaging in the decision making process if the ethical issue is not resolved. …

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