Ethics and Excuses: The Crisis in Professional Responsibility

By Banks McDowell | Go to book overview

could sue the right party and have the case decided on the merits. Since I regarded myself as ethical, I was highly offended by his accusation. On consulting a number of other attorneys in the area, about half thought I had acted unethically and the other half found nothing wrong with what I had done.

Now to the problem of excuses. I was genuinely unaware that there was an ethical issue. Is that an acceptable excuse? My legal education, which did include a course in the legal profession and ethics, had not prepared me to deal with such a problem. Was that a violation of the duty of my teachers and, if so, was their failure to perform their responsibilities, an acceptable excuse for my conduct? Did I in fact have an ethical duty to inform the attorney on the other side that he had sued the wrong party? The resolution of that depends on how much I follow the informal code of conduct about duties between fellow professionals and how much I adhere to ultimate loyalty to the client's interests. Is that conflict of duties an acceptable excuse for choosing either alternative? Does a good motive, the difficulty of proving on the merits that the claim was weak, justify using the technical defense to reach, what in my judgment, was the right result? Is that an acceptable excuse? Forty years later, I still find these issues difficult.


NOTES
1.
The caveat as to doctors arises out of a relatively new problem, the obligation of doctors to report cases of suspected child abuse, even when it is the parent who brings the child to the doctor, tells her about the injury, and is the paying client. In addition, some medical associations are seriously considering amending their formal ethical rule on confidentiality to require doctors to notify police if a patient makes a threat about killing someone else. See Jane Gadd, "MD Reporting of Threats Wins Backing," THE GLOBE AND MAIL, Toronto (Tuesday, July 11, 1996): A3.
2.
For a nice account, with examples, of medical doctors being unaware of the presence of moral issues see Samuel Gorovitz, DOCTORS' DILEMMAS: MORAL CONFLICT AND MEDICAL CARE ( New York: Macmillan, 1982), pp. 15-21.
3.
See my discussion of the teacher's responsibility in McDowell, "The Ethical Obligations of Professional Teachers (of Ethics)," PROFESSIONAL ETHICS: A MULTIDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL, Vol. 1, Nos. 3 & 4 ( 1992):53.
4.
Christopher Lasch, THE CULTURE OF NARCISSISM: AMERICAN LIFE IN AN AGE OF DIMINISHING EXPECTATIONS ( New York: Warner Books, 1979), p. 209.
5.
If, however, the professional charged with acting unethically tries to pass it on to subordinates over whom he has control, such as younger professional associates or staff, the excuse is not very effective. He must accept responsibility for their weaknesses since he selected, ought to have monitored, and could have discharged them.
6.
The character appears in Ross Thomas popular set of novels, CHINAMAN'S CHANCE, OUT ON THE RIM, and VOODOO, LTD.

-44-

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Ethics and Excuses: The Crisis in Professional Responsibility
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - Introduction: The Ethical Crisis? 1
  • Notes 10
  • 2 - Responsibility and Excuses 13
  • Notes 23
  • 3 - Ethical Excuses 27
  • Notes 44
  • 4 - Law and Ethics: The Different Systems 47
  • Notes 61
  • 5 - Defenses: The Legal Excuses 63
  • Conclusion 79
  • 6 - The Fallibility of Human Beings 85
  • Notes 96
  • 7 - The Informal Moral Codes 97
  • 8 - The Need to Reformulate Ethical Expectations 111
  • Notes 130
  • 9 - The Professional and the Market--Is Efficiency the Predominant Value? 133
  • Notes 144
  • 10 - The Responsibility of Others Toward the Excuse Giver: The Need for Dialogue 147
  • Notes 157
  • 11 - Conclusion 159
  • Bibliography 163
  • Index 167
  • About the Author 171
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