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'Social Justice' Stays in Ethics Code

Vol. 27 • Issue 9 • Page 7

Representative Assembly Wrap

PHILADELPHIA - Rejecting what representatives thought was a politically hijacked definition of "social justice," the Representative Assembly voted April 14 to keep the principle and the terminology in its Code of Ethics and Ethics Standards document.

The Social Justice Principle had been added just last year when two documents on ethical behavior were combined into one during a scheduled five-year review of the code. This year, three Michigan therapists - Kathleen Grace, MS, OTR/L; Roseanne DiZazzo-Miller, DrOT, OTR/L; and Claudette Stork Reid, OT/L - petitioned the assembly to get rid of the Social Justice Principle and re-work some of its tenets into other sections of the code without using the term "social justice." They felt that it was too vague and confusing a standard to impose on practitioners.

Early in the debate, Michigan Rep. Susan Robosan-Burt, OTR/L, read a statement on behalf of her constituents, supporting the motion.

She noted that the Centennial Vision, "a powerful document that paints a compelling picture of where we want the profession to go," is really the aspirational statement within occupational therapy, and that "the Code of Ethics, by comparison, is a statement of behavioral expectations for every OT practitioner. We are expected to behave in alignment with every principle and statement if we are practicing our profession ethically." Because the document is written into practice acts in 12 states, ".the Code of Ethics has the force of law.[and] must be pragmatic and wholly order to be effective."

The statement warned that practitioners in those states - Alaska, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island - risked loss of license it they even unintentionally violated one of the tenets of the Social Justice Principle. For instance, Subsection F under the Social Justice Principle lists specific factors that might affect occupational therapy delivery: "economic status, age, ethnicity, race, geography, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religion, culture and political affiliation." Motion 2 would have replaced those with a more general statement about fair treatment of individuals.

But Ethics Commission Chair Barbara Hemphill, DMin, OTR, FAOTA, FMOTA, read a statement on behalf of the commission saying that AOTA's legal counsel, in collaboration with whom the 2010 ethics document was written, had noted that "if the state adopts the ethics code, the state has made a decision that it is not too vague to be a law. It is not up to AOTA to make such a decision."

COE Chair Jyothi Gupta, PhD, OTR/L, added, "I cannot understand why anyone could not support this [the current code]. We need to look at broad principles of social justice. A core value is non-discrimination."

The motion was defeated by voice vote of the assembly.

Other RA Action

The assembly adopted:

• a motion to change the format of a recently adopted practice advisory on services provided by level-II fieldwork students into that of an official document of AOTA;

• motions to devise a "specialized knowledge and skills" document in complex seating and wheeled mobility, and a fact sheet to educate the public about complex rehabilitation technology (CRT);

• a new Societal Statement on Health Literacy

• a plan to implement the newly expanded Nominations/Recognitions Committee by giving it access to AOTA's Coordinated Online Opportunities for Leadership (COOL) database, where people who are interested in taking leadership positions in AOTA can register and be assigned to projects that fit their skills and time-commitment abilities. Other implementation policies were also outlined;

• a change in some of the language of OT Practice in the Model Practice Act regarding the definition of occupational therapy practice;

• substitute motions to add an RA representative to the ad Membership Ad Hoc Committee and to have that committee prepare recommendations for affordable and sustainable membership growth; and

• a motion to look into revising RA procedural models for more efficiency and better potential for new leaders.

The assembly defeated:

• a plan to replace the Representative Assembly with a governmental model based on a council of practice experts, along with three other motions that would have implemented it;

• an expanded level of entry into the profession for OTAs; and

• a motion to lower first-year AOTA membership dues to $10 for new members.


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