Justice and Social Responsibility: Being Fair and Beyond
As noted in chapter 3, issues of justice have to do with deciding how to treat others in a fair, impartial, or equitable manner. In modern times, theories of justice have been tied to conceptions of human rights, which include assumptions about peoples' basic needs, such as education, medical attention and a decent standard of living ( Benn, 1967b). Psychologists have struggled with whether people have a right to a basic level of psychological services and whether it is unjust or unfair when they do not receive it. The question of whether psychological services are luxuries to be enjoyed by the wealthy or necessities that all people should be able to use is one of social justice.
Furthermore, in psychology, questions of human rights are tied to the respect due to all people. Thus, people, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, social class, or whether they are differently abled, are owed fair treatment. It is unjust or unfair to treat them otherwise. In other words, issues of justice go beyond beneficence to questions of what people are due or owed ( Beauchamp & Childress, 1994).
Although the formal principle of justice states that equals should be treated equally and unequals treated unequally according to their relevant differences ( Benn, 1967a), justifying the relevant or irrelevant differences is an extremely complex task. For example, what differences might be relevant or irrelevant in making a decision about whether someone deserved treatment for a mental health problem? Would age or race or gender be relevant or irrelevant characteristics? The characteristics that are relevant or irrelevant depend to some extent on one's theory of justice as well as the issue under discussion.
In the ethics code, AFA ( 1992) indicates that psychologists should not "engage in unfair discrimination based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability,