From Our Print Archives

Why We Need Ethics

Vol. 21 •Issue 9 • Page 5
Guest Editorial

Why We Need Ethics

[Editor's clarification: In the April 4, 2005 issue of ADVANCE, we did not properly cite Dr. Reitz's full name, title and credentials in our article ("A Stormy Transition"). S. Maggie Reitz, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, is the current chair of the American Occupational Therapy Association's Commission on Standards and Ethics. ADVANCE thanks Dr. Reitz for her contributions to the article.]

The Commission on Standards and Ethics (SEC) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) appreciates and welcomes ADVANCE articles aimed at educating occupational therapy personnel and students regarding motions before the upcoming AOTA Representative Assembly. By agreeing to be interviewed for your article on the SEC that appeared in the April 4, 2005, issue of ADVANCE, I, on behalf of the SEC and through this letter, was presented with an opportunity to educate members and non-members alike about the importance of an enforceable code of ethics for our professional membership organization.

Professions are awarded prestige, autonomy and other benefits from society. In turn, professions have certain unique responsibilities. "The ethical code of a profession serves as a guide for practitioners in determining what is moral behavior relative to clients and colleagues. In addition, it serves as a contract with the society to which the profesion is responsible" (Mosey (1981). Occupational therapy: Configuration of a profession, p. 64). However, for a professional membership organization to stay true to its code of ethics, mission and vision, and not become a self-serving trade organization, the organization must have the ability to enforce its code of ethics.

The SEC want to underscore to ADVANCE readers that the Enforcement Procedures outline a review that is fair, unbiased, and a deliberative course of action, the goals of which are to support the ethical behavior of members and the Association. In addition, the procedures provide for two levels of appeal and adequate due process in every case where the respondent wishes to challenge the SEC decision.

The SEC has enforcement procedures for the Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics publicly available through a variety of mechanisms. The Enforcement Procedures for the Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics are reviewed and modified periodically based on feedback from members, SEC's self-assessment, and an awareness of ethical trends in U.S. society and health to ensure the effectiveness and functionality of the process. The SEC has an obligation to objectively follow the Enforcement Procedures in every case. Both the respondent and complainant are treated by the SEC with objectivity and confidentiality in every case, which is also requested of all participants in the process.

The following information, which appears in the Report of the Commission on Standards and Ethics to the 2005 Representative Assembly, may be of interest to your readers:

• "In its enforcement role, the SEC received 20 complaints (including regular complaints, and disciplinary action from NBCOT or SRBs [state regulatory boards]) during the past year. Of these, 10 complaints were opened as [new] cases. The SEC investigated and closed 14 cases. The Judicial Council heard three appeals. Two cases were appealed to the Appeal Panel."

• The Ethics Leadership Orientation and Education Program, developed by the SEC, was presented to the AOTA Board of Directors and 5 other volunteer groups this year. The SEC will also explore a cost-effective and relevant method of continuing this ethics education, both for elected and volunteer leaders and, potentially, to meet the needs of state regulatory boards.

• "In accordance with RA Charge 2004 V46, the SEC is in the process of developing an Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedure for Association bodies."

• The AOTA "Ethics Office provided ethics resources and material to faculty, students, practitioners and other consumers. It also received and responded to 119 ethics-related phone calls as well as 80 emails involving ethical issues in the past year. One article related to ethical and legal practice was published in OT Practice."

In addition to the activities mentioned above, in my role as SEC Chairperson, I am serving on the current Ad Hoc Committee reviewing alternative structures for the SEC. The Ad Hoc Committee is reviewing AOTA's practices and comparing them to other professional societies regarding structure and function of ethics bodies. The SEC hopes AOTA members will consider the substance of RA motion #3 and realize that the current Ad Hoc Committee is already addressing its intent.

Prevention through education is a primary and growing part of the SEC's role. This includes the development of the Ethics Orientation and Education Program for AOTA Officers & Volunteers; the continuation of activities such as the Everyday Ethics workshop at the AOTA annual conference; the Reference Guide; advisory opinions; and new initiatives such as the development of a conflict resolution/alternative disposition process.

The SEC historically has addressed issues such as scope of practice, competence, plagiarism, and sexual misconduct. Colleague to colleague, parent, client communication and confidentiality have also been considered under the principles of the Code as the Code applies to members in their clinical, research, academic and volunteer roles. In the past year, over 80 percent of the SEC's time and energy has been devoted to preventive education. We strongly believe that prevention is more potent, economical, and efficacious than intervention after an injustice.

I encourage your readers to contact their representative to the AOTA Representative Assembly with their thoughts regarding the motions to be considered at this year's conference. I and the other members of the SEC welcome any contacts or questions you may have regarding Motion 3, the AOTA Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics or its Enforcement Procedures.

–S. Maggie Reitz, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA
Chairperson, AOTA Commission on Standards and Ethics


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