A Practitioner's Guide to Ethical Decision Making
Holly Forester-Miller, Ph.D. Thomas Davis, Ph.D. Copyright © 1996, American Counseling Association. A free publication of the American Counseling Association promoting ethical counseling practice in service to the public. -- Printed and bound copies may be purchased in quantity for a nominal fee from the Online Resource Catalog or by calling the ACA Distribution Center at 800.422.2648. ACA grants reproduction rights to libraries, researchers and teachers who wish to copy all or part of the contents of this document for scholarly purposes provided that no fee for the use or possession of such copies is charged to the ultimate consumer of the copies. Proper citation to ACA must be given. Introduction Counselors are often faced with situations which require sound ethical decision making ability. Determining the appropriate course to take when faced with a difficult ethical dilemma can be a challenge. To assist ACA members in meeting this challenge, the ACA Ethics Committee has developed A Practitioner's Guide to Ethical Decision Making. The intent of this document is to offer professional counselors a framework for sound ethical decision making. The following will address both guiding principles that are globally valuable in ethical decision making, and a model that professionals can utilize as they address ethical questions in their work. Moral Principles Kitchener (1984) has identified five moral principles that are viewed as the cornerstone of our ethical guidelines. Ethical guidelines can not address all situations that a counselor is forced to confront. Reviewing these ethical principles which are at the foundation of the guidelines often helps to clarify the issues involved in a given situation. The five principles, autonomy, justice, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and fidelity are each absolute truths in and of themselves. By exploring the dilemma in regards to these principles one may come to a better understanding of the conflicting issues. 1. Autonomy is the principle that addresses the concept of independence. The essence of this principle is allowing an individual the freedom of choice and action. It addresses the responsibility of the counselor to encourage clients, when appropriate, to make their own decisions and to act on their own values. There are two important considerations in encouraging clients to be autonomous. First, helping the client to understand how their decisions and their values may or may not be received within the context of the society in which they live, and how they may impinge on the rights of others. The second consideration is related to the client's ability to make sound and rational decisions. Persons not capable of making competent choices, such as children, and some individuals with mental handicaps, should not be allowed to act on decisions that could harm themselves or others.
2. Nonmaleficence is the concept of not causing harm to others. Often explained as "above all do no harm", this principle is considered by some to be the most critical of all the principles, even though theoretically they are all of equal weight (Kitchener, 1984; Rosenbaum, 1982; Stadler, 1986). This principle reflects both the idea of not inflicting intentional harm, and not engaging in actions that risk harming others (Forester-Miller & Rubenstein, 1992). 3. Beneficence reflects the counselor's responsibility to contribute to the welfare of the client. Simply stated it means to do good, to be proactive and also to prevent harm when possible (Forester-Miller & Rubenstein, 1992). 4. Justice does not mean treating all individuals the same. Kitchener (1984) points out that the formal meaning of justice is "treating equals equally and unequals unequally but in proportion to their relevant differences" (p.49). If an individual is to be treated differently, the counselor needs to be able to offer a rationale that explains the necessity and appropriateness of...
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