Ethics can play a major role in our society. Without moral principles, professionals such as those in medicine, education, and media may harm the patients, students, clients, etc. who they have obligations to. While ethical behavior in different professions pertain to a wide range of principles, ethics pertaining to the relationships between the professional and the “client” is one that pertains to every profession and one that has significant importance.
By Rebecca Diers – SUNY Cortland
The relationship between a professional and their “client” is based on trust. Without trust, this relationship ceases to exist. Because of this, professionals have an ethical duty to place their “clients” needs over their own. This concept is used in the service industries, as it is what drives the customer to continue to use their services, and allows the service itself to continue to function. If the customer does not feel as though they are being treated right, they will leave that place of business and find somewhere else to go. The approach of putting the “clients” needs over professionals is what initiates the relationship between the two, which is where ethics begins to come into play.
One example where this is evident is in doctor-patient relationships regarding patients’ health. When evaluating patients and discussing treatment options, doctors should base their decisions keeping in mind the wishes of their patient. For example, if the doctor recommends chemotherapy to fight cancer, but the patient would rather not go through with this type of treatment, the doctor ethically should not force the patient to comply with their medical suggestion. This sometimes can be difficult for the doctor, as a patient may refuse treatment that the doctor knows will significantly help them. This is often the case with patients who hold certain beliefs; they may say that it is against their religion or their culture’s beliefs to undergo certain treatments. There are some cultures, such as the Hmong from China, who may refuse medical treatment because their culture uses traditional healing methods, and to them modern medicine may prevent their soul’s reincarnation. It is important for doctors to be aware of these different beliefs, so that they can be prepared to treat their patients as ethically as possible. Doctors should always take their patients beliefs into account, even if they do not want to abide by their requests. This is because patients are more likely to comply with their doctor if there is mutual trust and if they feel as though their wishes are being respected.
There are some instances though where doctors run into moral dilemmas when treating their patients. This occurs when there is a medical emergency, and the patient requires immediate medical attention. In those instances, the beliefs of the patient are no longer taken into account, and the doctor must ethically perform the procedure. Additionally, in most cases parents cannot refuse life-saving care for their children because of religious practices. Even if the doctor is aware of the parent’s beliefs and wants to abide by them, they ethically must treat the child to save their life. These cases may put a strain on the patients’ relationship and trust with their doctors but performing life-saving treatment to patients is ethically more important than abiding by the patient’s wishes.
Ethics is proving to be tough to follow for doctors during the Covid-19 pandemic. Doctors are trained to do everything they can to help their patients, but with the number of people dying from this virus, keeping people alive is difficult. In relation to this, a doctor from Queens said, “The most anxiety I have is around ventilator allocation. Seeing people die is not the issue. We’re trained to deal with death. Nor is it the volume of people dying. The issue is giving up on people we wouldn’t normally give up on.” This doctor then described a patient who came into the hospital from a facility for the aged who came in already on a ventilator, and all she could think about was wanting to give the ventilator to someone else who needed it, because the hospital was so desperate for this equipment. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52137160). Deciding who should get to have these ventilators to keep them alive is ethically challenging and is something these doctors never thought they would have to do.
As in medicine, ethics are an important aspect in the education profession. This relationship occurs between the teacher and the student, and a lot of it has to do with mutual trust. Teachers should ethically treat every student with kindness, respect, and equality to facilitate the bonds of trust and respect. When teachers show favoritism or display prejudice towards certain students, students may feel as though they are being treated unfairly, which will break this critical relationship between the teacher and student. Oftentimes, this can affect the student’s education. The student may not feel as though it is necessary to try in the class, because they may feel as though the teacher does not care about their success. When teachers are impartial and show respect to their students though, the students are more likely to try and strive for achievement because the teacher has developed a strong relationship between them. This relationship is the foundation for mutual trust between the teacher and student. When the teacher shows through their actions that they can be trusted, the student is likely to feel more at ease and comfortable in the classroom environment. Similarly, it opens communication between the teacher and student, where the student feels free to talk with their teacher about any questions or issues they may have. Creating an unwelcoming environment would hinder this and would also be unethical to do as a teacher.
Because of this mutual trust, there are some moments when teachers may also run into ethical dilemmas, just like doctors do. This occurs when a student feels comfortable enough to tell their teacher something in confidentiality. While having mutual trust is respected in these situations because the student trusts the teacher enough to go to them with this certain situation, teachers may have to break their student’s trust if the situation is to a certain degree. For example, if a student mentions to their teacher that they are being abused at home, the teacher must ethically—and also legally—report it. Teachers are mandated reporters in most states, and are required by the law to report any signs of abuse or neglect of a child (https://www.educationcorner.com/teachers-mandated-reporters.html). Confidentiality does not matter in these situations, because of this legal and ethical obligation to safeguard the well-being of students. Even if a student asked their teacher not to say anything, the teacher must go against their wishes and break their trust to protect them.
Like professions in medicine and education, media professions, such as journalism, also have key relationships that follow ethical guidelines. In journalism, relationships are between the reporter (whether that is a broadcast/news reporter on television or a journalist writing for a news source) and their audience. One code of ethics that reporters must follow in terms of this relationship is minimizing harm when reporting a story. This is because the media heavily deals with peoples’ lives. If a reporter is sharing a story about something that happened to an individual, it is their duty to protect that individual’s safety in any means possible. In professional news stations, for example, there is a seven second delay with the video feeds in case anything goes wrong that should not be broadcasted to the public (https://www.recordherald.com/opinion/15498/why-must-journalists-minimize-harm). Reporters may also keep individuals’ identities secret to also protect them. This is often the case when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and other individuals who are unable to give consent. These individuals may be affected by their identities being shared, and so it is important for journalists to consider them when reporting (https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp). Part of harm minimization also involves reporters’ ethical obligations to report information accurately. Reporting inaccurate facts has the potential to ruin someone’s reputation, or cause people to think that something is true when it isn’t. Additionally, reporting inaccurate facts may cause people to begin to distrust the information that is being presented to them by those reporters. Trust between reporters and their audience is very important because reporters both get their information from, and report to, that audience. The audience needs to be able to trust them to feel as though they have good intentions when it comes to reporting.
Some implications with ethics in media professions arise when considering certain information. While it is important for reporters to respect people’s privacy when asked, there may be instances where it is critical to still report the information because of public importance. For example, if an individual reports abuse, and the accused’s identity most likely will not remain anonymous as it would be for public safety that their identity is known by the public. If it is for the greater good that the reporter released certain information, then they ethically may have to break some individuals’ trust to do so and remain credible themselves.
Ethical dilemmas also arise in the media in relation to free speech. Following the Capitol riot, judges have been banning some of the rioters from social media and the Internet because of the presence of misinformation that is being posted. Judges are usually reluctant from banning people from the Internet but are now facing this challenge of having to decide what circumstances should cause people to be taken offline as a result of this event. Information from sources with questionable intent posted can be dangerous for other individuals on social media, as threats are sometimes made. Using social media in this way can be seen as an abuse of free speech, leading these judges to have to make these ethical decisions on whether or not to remove these individuals from the Internet completely (https://www.govtech.com/public-safety/-Judges-Are-Banning-Capitol-Rioters-from-the-Internet.html).
The relationship between professionals and their “clients” is a main part of ethics within different professions. Professionals need to develop mutual trust with their “clients,” and to consider this relationship when making different moral decisions. There are times when professionals need to go against the trust of their “client” for the greater good, which can create ethical dilemmas in the professional field. Without ethics though, professionals would lack moral compasses that can guide them with their relationship with their “clients.” As professionals make up a significant portion of society, ethics therefore can also be considered as a role for society as a whole. Individuals should examine their own morals and recognize the implications they may have when put into play.
Considering this “moral compass” has there been a breach of ethics across different professions in today’s society? Do individuals care too much about their own success to put the needs of their clients above their own, resulting in ethics becoming a consideration of the past? Let me know your thoughts at [email protected]
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