It is a pleasure to introduce another guest blogger this month, Bobby Ferguson, Founder and CEO of Jaywalker Lodge. Just as an introduction, I thought it might be helpful to conceptualize ethics prior to getting into the meat of Bobby’s article.
People oftentimes get confused between ethics and law. Something can be ethical but illegal. Conversely, something can be legal but unethical. For me, essentially, ethics are about doing the next right thing. There is some standard terminology centered around ethics that we all agree upon, but the interpretation of the terminology is sometimes where we have conflict. So ethics is more like an ongoing philosophical debate, which often leaves room for multiple sides to be correct on the same topic, depending largely on the individual circumstances of a particular issue.
Take for example the Selma march that happened only 50 short years ago, and is something our community has talked about recently. It may have been illegal for the first march to have occurred because they did not have a permit, but it was the right thing to do. How the police responded to that march may have been legal at that moment in time based on the laws of that time, but it was unethical. I use the Selma example because it gives everyone a visual. And it’s a very clear visual on what is at risk and what is at stake for always “doing the right thing.”
Sometimes doing what’s right and ethical means putting your life on the line. It means operating outside of the norm. It means pushing the envelope on legalities in order to create social justice, economical change, improvement in our environment, or to care for another human life. Sometimes doing the ethical right thing can land you in jail. Sometimes doing the unethical thing can get you a financial reward even though it may create harm or not benefit others. So being an ethical professional, being a leader that is known to be one of integrity means: standing sometimes alone, standing loud, and standing proud, or sometimes silently continuing along a quiet path.
The addiction treatment field at times has been plagued with defining what the codes of conduct are for an organization or for an individual professional within an organization. As professionals, we banter over what is ethical, what is legal, and what is acceptable in our marketing and business practices.
I challenge every professional, especially those identified as leaders in the field, to be mindful and to meditate on words such as “non-malfeasance (doing no harm), and “beneficence” (the duty to seek and do good), so that they can work diligently on respecting all persons by creating autonomy, leading with compassion, and ensuring confidentiality. I challenge each professional to tell the truth, regardless of how difficult that may be at times.
When I was working in the field in the early 1990s as a marketing professional, the president of the Psychiatric Institutes of America was charged and later convicted of white collar health care fraud, which brought the onslaught of managed care. As upset and angry that we as treatment professionals get with insurance companies, I am ever reminded of our need to look at ourselves and our own actions to see the impact that they have both had on the short- and long-term outcomes of the field/profession that we choose to work in. This field/profession helps people with a life-threatening, chronic, debilitating disease that continues to cripple Americans.