I read an opinion piece in the Boston Globe today that turned my stomach. The piece, “Let Psychiatrists Talk about Trump’s Mental State” was written by Leonard L. Glass, a part-time associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and senior attending psychiatrist at McLean Hospital. In his opinion piece, Dr. Glass tries to make the case that those in his profession should be allowed to violate their professional ethics and openly diagnose President Trump of whatever psychological affliction they deem he may have based on what they have seen on the news or read in the media, without interviewing and examining him in person. Obviously, Dr. Glass roots his beliefs in his obvious partisanship, and has no apparent need to follow the ethical standards of the medical and psychiatric professions. Regardless of one’s political party and beliefs, any fair-minded individual should be concerned about this belief.
Most professions, including medical, legal, governmental and nongovernmental, have ethical standards that they are supposed to adhere to, yet I seem to come across stories on a regular basis where individuals and organizations get caught violating those standards. I know a number of lawyers who have faced suspensions or disbarment for their lapses of good judgment. There are plenty of politicians who have been thrown out of office for enriching themselves through their unethical behavior while in office. And, in my chosen field of nonprofit development, I learn of more and more nonprofit organizations, boards, and professionals who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law because of their decisions to forgo their professional standards.
Since I am not a physician, psychiatrist, or lawyer, I cannot claim extensive knowledge of professional ethics for those fields, but as someone who wrote a series of posts about the ethical standards of the Association of Fundraising Professionals only a few years ago, I have a good deal of knowledge about the subject. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I do have a pretty good idea of what a fundraising professional can and can’t do. Most of the horror stories I have read about individuals and organization are a result of ignoring the ethical standards put in place by the AFP. Stealing from the organization’s coffers to enhance one’s personal lifestyle, enriching a board member by using their business when other businesses would be more appropriate, or doing things that shine a bad light on the organization are unethical behaviors that should never take place, yet every week a new story is published. I find these tales appalling, and every time I read one, I can only shake my head.
It seems to me that a major reason for the many problems is that too many people now ignore the ethical standards that are put in place for a reason. I don’t see ethical practices followed by many in the business world, and that is why profit is far more important than fair treatment of employees and customers. (Does anyone know if business schools even teach ethics anymore?) The government has a number of offices dedicated to ethics, yet many politicians from both political parties, including President Trump, don’t believe ethics apply to them. (Aren’t politics and ethics oxymoronic?)
When was the last time you read through the AFP Code of Ethical Standards? Some people in our field read them annually or more often, while others have never read them or even heard of them. I know of a few cases where an individual knows the ethical standards and then, knowingly violates them, and the organization that employed them suffers the loss of support of its donors to the point of having to close their doors and end their programs.
I guess what I am saying is, don’t be like this psychiatrist, Dr. Glass, who believes that professional ethics should go the way of the dodo because they interfere with his political activism, but take more time to study the ethical beliefs of your profession, and make sure that your decisions are in line with your profession’s ethical standards. Maybe we can slow that slide down the slippery slope that our society seems to be experiencing.