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CHAPTER 11 Policy, Law, and Politics: Ethical Perspective

The public expects accountability in all aspects of governmental relations. Elected officials and their representatives and delegates are expected to avoid conflicts of interest in the policymaking process. Ethical behavior and political activity are two behaviors that can co-exist and are not mutually exclusive concepts. The public expects policymakers, constituents, and policy implementers to behave in an ethical manner. In addition, expectations of accountability have been strengthened within the business community, requiring institutional and organizational policies to be formulated and implemented in an ethical manner. This chapter presents an overview of ethics to facilitate ethical policymaking and political activity.

Ethics Defined

Ethics is defined as the study of the nature and justification of principles that guide individuals to act in a moral manner that is consistent with society’s customs, values, beliefs, and norms. Ethics is also described as the study of the manner in which individuals behave in a situation or as the basis for determining correct action. The field of ethics continues to evolve as societal needs change, technological advancements occur, and policies evolve (Porche, 2003).

Professional ethics “seek out the values and standards that have been developed by practitioners and leaders of a given profession over a long period of time and… identify those values that seem most salient and inherent” to the professional discipline (Callahan & Jennings, 2002, p. 172). Applied ethics adopts a point of view that promotes practical application in real-world ethical issues. Applied ethics focuses more on professional behavior and conduct in specific situations based on the values of a profession (Callahan & Jennings, 2002). Advocacy ethics focuses equality and social justice. There are basic theoretical frameworks that guide ethical decision-making (Beauchamp & Childress, 2008). Other essential ethics terms are presented in Table 11-1.

Table 11-1 Ethical Terminology

Ethics Process of determining right and wrong conduct
Morals Qualities that are considered by society to be associated with being intrinsically good
Unethical An action or conduct that violates ethical principles, accepted values, or morals
Ethical gray area An ethical situation or problem that does not neatly fit into any one specific categorization
Cognitive dissonance A cognitive process in which there is a discrepancy between what a person believes, knows, and values, and what is perceived to be true and real. The individual attempts to bring behavior in alignment to avoid the discomfort created by the dissonance.
Altruism The regard for others
Beneficence The principle that one should assist others; to do good
Duty An action or act that must occur because of a moral or legal obligation
Egoism Self promotion is the sole objective
Equality Equal distribution
Liberty Freedom of human action; grounded in principle of autonomy
Veracity Principle of truth telling
Vices Negative ethical or character traits
Virtues Positive ethical or character traits

Ethical Theories and Paradigms

Ethical theories are the frameworks that provide the context in which an individual engages in ethical decision making. Ethical theories serve as guidelines to assist with the analysis of ethical dilemmas, and guide an individual in determining ethical actions. Two classical ethical theories are deontology and utilitarianism.

Deontology

Deontology is a theoretical framework based on a sense of moral obligation or duty. Deontology states that an action’s moral rightness or wrongness depends on the action itself and the motivation behind the action (Beauchamp & Childress, 2008). Deontology acknowledges the moral obligation that individuals feel toward certain actions. Moral obligation refers to an individual feeling a sense of duty that requires them to act in a particular manner in response to their values, beliefs, and perspective of societal norms.

Utilitarianism

Teleology is an ethical theory that determines rightness or wrongness based solely on the expected outcomes or consequences of an action. Utilitarianism is a theoretical framework of teleology theory. The utilitarian framework proposes that the most ethical action is that which results in the greatest good for the largest number of individuals (Beauchamp & Childress, 2008). Utilitarianism does not specifically focus on the action but on the ultimate number of individuals impacted by the action.

Ethical Principles

Ethical principles evolve from an individual’s guiding ethical theoretical perspective, personal paradigm regarding moral conduct, and societal expectations. Ethical theories in addition to the moral tone of society assist in the formulation of ethical principles that guide an individual’s ethical behavior. In addition, ethical principles are the foundation of professional codes of ethics. Ethical principles guide an individual in the critical analysis and reasoning of an ethical dilemma. The most common principles encountered in ethics are beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice, and autonomy (Beauchamp & Childress, 2008).

Beneficence consists of norms providing the greatest benefit to an individual, group, or community. Beneficence consists of weighing the benefits of an action against the risks or costs to the individual, group, or community involved (Beauchamp & Childress, 2008).

Nonmaleficence is the ethical principle of “doing no harm.” With nonmaleficence, the policymaker focuses on not causing harm to individuals, groups, or communities. (Beauchamp & Childress, 2008).

Justice is the ethical principle of ensuring the fair and equitable distribution of benefits, risks, and cost. Justice is known as the ethical principle of fairness (Beauchamp & Childress, 2008).

Autonomy is the ethical principle known as “respect for persons.” Autonomy provides individuals with the right to make their own autonomous decisions. This is also referred to as the right to self-determination. This principle provides individuals with the right to make free, uncoerced, and informed decisions. Autonomy is the ethical principle that provides the framework of full disclosure and informed consent (Beauchamp & Childress, 2008).

In addition to the ethical principles of beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice, and autonomy, fidelity and veracity are two other principles essential in ethical decision-making processes. Fidelity is known as promise keeping. Fidelity ensures that the policymaker delivers what was promised in the form of policy. Veracity is known as truth telling. Veracity consists of being honest in delivering information to a policymakers constituency. Fidelity and veracity are essential for a policymaker to develop a trusting relationship with constituents.

Values Clarification

Values are beliefs that an individual or social group has regarding what is relevant and important to their belief system. Values generally have an emotional attachment. Values are continually formed throughout life as an individual develops, and as the contextual and social situation of the individual changes. Some values are permanent and some values transform as an individual grows and develops. Value formation originates within the individual’s family unit and continues to evolve with socialization into different professional and societal groups. Values that typically do not change, and form the basis for other values and philosophical perspectives are considered core values. An individual’s values comprise the belief system or framework that structures the manner in which an individual views the world. In other words, this value system serves as the framework that creates an individual’s paradigm regarding policy and politics (Coletta, 1978).

Values form the foundation for ethical decisions. To engage in moral thoughts and actions, an individual needs to have a framework of values that comprise their professional and personal life. The value clarification process promotes clarity regarding an individual’s personal and professional values that form the foundation for their thoughts and actions in relation to policy and politics.

The value clarification process promotes self-reflection to identify an individual’s values and value system. During this process of self-reflection, the policymaker has the ability to analyze and prioritize the values that compose their value system through a process of refinement. Raths et al. (1966) defined a seminal process of values clarification. The process consists of choosing, prizing, and acting. In accordance with this process, a value is that which meets more than two criteria resulting from these three processes (see Figure 11-1).

Figure 11-1 Value clarification process

Choosing consists of three criteria. These criteria are: choosing freely, choosing from alternatives (thoughts and actions), and choosing after thoughtful consideration of the consequences of each alternative. The next process, prizing, consists of two criteria. These two criteria are cherishing and being happy with the choice, and willingness to affirm the choice within a public arena. Lastly, the acting process is defined by doing something with the choice, and repeatedly acting in the same manner as a life pattern. Collectively, these three processes define the value clarification process that identifies an individual’s values which comprise their personal and professional policymaking paradigm. Table 11-2 provides a value clarification exercise to assist an individual with determining the values that comprise their value system. This process of self-reflection increases an individual’s personal understanding and self-awareness.

Table 11-2 Values Clarification Exercise

The following is a list of personal and professional values. Carefully consider each value. Rate each value using the following scale:
1 = Not at all important to me
2 = Not very important to me
3 = Moderately important to me
4 = Very important to me
5 = Essential to me
Value Meaning Rating (1 to 5)
Achievement Accomplishment of a desired goal  
Aesthetics Appreciation for beauty  
Altruism A genuine regard and devotion to the interest of others  
Autonomy Freedom of self-determination  
Diversity Appreciation for differences or variation  
Emotional well-being Freedom from anxiety; piece of mind; inner feelings of pleasure  
Excellence Highest quality  
Family Maintain strong sense of relationship to genetic relatives or group of choice  
Health Freedom from disease or pain; general condition of well-being  
Honesty Being truthful; straightforwardness of conduct  
Integrity Quality of having high moral principles, being reliable and trustworthy  
Justice Quality of being impartial, just and fair  
Knowledge Attainment of information or truth, power of knowing  
Love Affection or admiration for another  
Loyalty Maintaining an allegiance to a person, institution, political body, or another entity  
Morality Belief in and maintenance of ethical standards  
Pleasure An agreeable emotion of satisfaction or gratification  
Power Ability to influence others or exert control  
Professionalism Adherence to a set of values comprising statutory professional obligations, formally agreed codes of conduct, and the informal expectations aligned with the respective discipline  
Recognition Providing attention as a means to convey significance and importance  
Respect Positive feeling of esteem or admiration for another person or entity; deference toward another person or entity  
Security A feeling of safety or comfort  
Skill Ability to execute a specific technical expertise  
Spirituality Belief in or feeling of connection with a higher being  
Wealth An abundance of material possessions or resources  
Wisdom Insight, good sense, good judgment, intuitive knowledge  

Ethical Decision-making Process

An ethical dilemma arises when there is a conflict in the principles, duties, rights, beliefs, or values of one individual, group, population, or community with another or with societal expectations (Beauchamp & Childress, 2008). A reflective process that generates solutions or alternatives to the ethical dilemma is known as the ethical decision-making process.

Ethical decision-making processes facilitate the selection of an ethical resolution by outlining the steps that promote an understanding of the ethical dilemma and the preferred resolution. Ethical theoretical perspective and ethical principles are used in the ethical decision-making process to analyze the ethical dilemma. There are several decision-making processes that can be used to assist with ensuring that an individual selects the most ethical behavior within the given contextual situation. The two processes presented next are similar, but differ in the method by which the final ethical decision is rendered.

Porche (2003) proposed the following steps as a reflective process to reason through an ethical dilemma:

  • Define the ethical dilemma.
  • Outline the conflicting ethical issues and principles resulting from both sides of the ethical dilemma.
  • Identify the constituency impacted at all policy levels and on both sides of the dilemma.
  • Collect data relevant to both sides of the ethical dilemma.
  • List alternative policy options to resolve the ethical dilemma.
  • Describe the consequences for each policy option listed.
  • Analyze each policy option in relation to the preferred ethical theoretical paradigm, and ethical principles or codes of ethics.
  • Determine which policy option would be the best and most ethical resolution.
  • Draft policy that represents the ethical resolution selected.
  • Ensure that the policy is implemented with the ethical intent and context that provided the framework to develop the policy.
  • Evaluate the implementation and consequences of the ethical resolution. Consider the impact of the ethical resolution on each constituency.

An ethical decision-making process has been proposed by the Josephson Institute of Ethics. This decision-making process consists of five principled reasoning steps: These five steps are:

  • Clarification
    • Determine what must be decided.
    • Formulate a full range of alternative decision.
    • Eliminate any alternative decisions that have any unethical actions.
    • Prioritize the decisions hierarchically in relation to ethical principles.
  • Evaluate—Consider all decisions in terms of practicality, ethics, benefits, burdens, and risk to all individuals involved.
  • Decide
    • Make the best decision based on personal conscience and appropriateness of action.
    • Consider the following: Are you treating others as you would want to be treated? Would you be comfortable if your reasoning and decision were to be made public? Would you be comfortable if your children were observing your behavior?
  • Implement
    • Develop a plan to implement the decisions.
    • Maximize benefits while reducing cost and risks.
  • Modify and Monitor
    • Evaluate and adjust the plan to new information.
    • Monitor the effects of the decisions.
    • Revise plan of action based on new information (Josephson Institute of Ethics, 1999).

Codes of Ethics

Codes of ethics are derived from normative ethics. Ethical codes are used to transmit moral guidelines of discipline or professional group. These ethical codes represent the values inherent in a profession or professional group (Beauchamp & Childress, 2008).

Ethical Engagement in Political Process

Engagement in the political process is expected to be ethical. Political plans should create an ethical infrastructure within the plan. This ethical infrastructure should ensure that there is a system of checks and balances that occur with the execution of each political strategy. This promotes integrity, transparency, and accountability within the political process of policymaking. This means that the ethical decision-making process should be executed when discerning among political strategies selected. However, prior to the working of the political action plan, the individuals involved in the decision making and implementation of political strategies must identify and clearly understand their values and guiding ethical principles.

Government Employees and Ethics

Government employees and elected officials are expected to engage in ethical behavior and conduct the affairs of their offices in an ethical manner. Government employees, regardless of the branch of government (executive, legislative or judicial) should hold their positions of public trust in high regard. The American people have a right to expect that all government employees will be loyal to the Constitution (or state constitutions or city charters), laws, regulations, ethical principles and codes of ethics. Tables 11-3 and 11-4 provide codes of ethical conduct for lobbying and government service.

Table 11-3 Code of Lobbying Ethics

Lobbyists are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical conduct during lobbying efforts. The American League of Lobbyists provides the following code of ethics for independent lobbyists. This code of ethics can provide a framework for all individuals engaged in lobbying activities. The American League of Lobbyist Code of Ethics is summarized below:

·         • Honesty and integrity

o    ○ Truthful in communicating with public officials.

o    ○ Provide accurate and factual information.

o    ○ Ensure that new accurate and updated information is provided if any information that was provided becomes inaccurate.

·         • Compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and rules

o    ○ Be familiar with laws, regulations, and rules.

o    ○ Do not cause self or public officer to violate any law, regulation, or rule.

·         • Professionalism

o    ○ Act in a fair and professional manner.

o    ○ Acquire knowledge of legislative and governmental processes.

o    ○ Represent clients in a competent and professional manner.

o    ○ Engage in continuing education to understand legislative and governmental processes.

o    ○ Treat others with respect and civility.

·         • Conflicts of interest

o    ○ Do not engage in representation that creates conflicts of interest without all parties involved having full disclosure through an informed consent process.

o    ○ Avoid advocating a position while representing another client on the same issue with a conflicting position.

o    ○ Obtain consent from a client if representation of one client on an issue may have a significant adverse impact on another client’s interest.

o    ○ Disclose all potential conflicts to current and prospective clients and disclose methods to resolve conflicts of interest with all parties.

o    ○ Inform all clients when receiving a direct or indirect referral or consulting fee from the lobbyist in connection with the client’s work.

·         • Due diligence and best efforts

o    ○ Devote adequate time, attention, and resources to lobbying efforts.

o    ○ Exercise loyalty.

o    ○ Keep client informed regarding your work activities on their behalf.

·         • Compensation and engagement terms

o    ○ Retain clients using a written agreement specifying the terms and conditions of the agreement.

o    ○ Cite basis for compensation, fees, and other expenditures in which compensation is required.

·         • Confidentiality

o    ○ Do not disclose confidential and privileged information without the client’s expressed consent.

o    ○ Do not use confidential information against the interest of any other parties.

·         • Public education

o    ○ Ensure the public understands and appreciates the nature, legitimacy, and necessity of lobbying.

·         • Duty to governmental institutions

o    ○ Respect all governmental institutions.

o    ○ Do not undermine public confidence and trust in the democratic governmental process.

o    ○ Do not act in any manner that demonstrates disrespect for governmental institutions.

Source: American League of Lobbyists. (2010). Code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.alldc.org/ethicscode.cfm

Table 11-4 United States Government Service Code of Ethics

Any person in government service should:

·         I. Put loyalty to the highest moral principles above loyalty to persons, party, or government department.

·         II. Uphold the Constitution, laws, and legal regulations of the United States and of all governments therein and never be a party to their evasion.

·         III. Give a full day’s labor for a full day’s pay; giving to the performance of his duties his earnest effort and best thought.

·         IV. Seek to find and employ more efficient and economical ways of getting tasks accomplished.

·         V. Never discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone, whether for remuneration or not; and never accept, for himself or his family, favors or benefits under circumstances which might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of his governmental duties.

·         VI. Make no private promises of any kind binding upon the duties of office, since the government employee has no private word which can be binding on public duty.

·         VII. Engage in no business with the government, either directly or indirectly, which is inconsistent with the conscientious performance of his governmental duties.

·         VIII. Never use any information coming to him confidentially in the performance of governmental duties as a means for making private profit.

·         IX. Expose corruption wherever discovered.

·         X. Uphold these principles, ever conscious that public office is a public trust.

Source: H.R. Doc. No. 64-103 (1958).

In 1989, President George H. W. Bush issued Executive Order 12674 (which was then modified in 1990 by Executive Order 12731), that outlined general principles broadly defining the obligation of public service. Two core concepts provided the basis for these principles:

  • Employees shall not use their public office for private gain.
  • Employees shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual.

In addition, these executive orders strongly encouraged that employees avoid any action that would create the appearance of violating the law or ethical standards. President Bush was striving to generate public confidence and trust in the integrity of government operations and programs. Other recommended cautions to not misuse a position in the executive branch of government consisted of:

  • Employees are not to use their position, title, or any authority associated with their office to coerce or induce a benefit for self, family, or friends.
  • Employees are not to use or allow the improper use of nonpublic information to advance the private interest of themselves or their acquaintances.
  • Use government property only for authorized purposes.
  • Employees may not misuse official paid time.

A great concern in relation to the ethical behavior of governmental employees involves financial conflicts of interest. The following strategies are suggested to avoid potential financial conflicts of interest:

  • Recusals—Do not participate in any matter that poses a conflict of interest.
  • Waivers—Secure a waiver from the appropriate authorized official.
  • Divestiture—Sell or separate legally from any property or financial interest that may appear to be a financial conflict of interest. A “certificate of divestiture” may be required from the appropriate authorized official.
  • Trusts—Develop trusts in accordance with the Internal Revenue Code.

Governmental employees are encouraged build public trust through the creation of transparent activities. Transparency is a key leadership strategy for building trust within organizations and among constituents. The following are recommendations to facilitate the development of transparency and to ultimately build trust:

  • Communicate in a meaningful, purposive, unpretentious, and clear manner presenting factual information with full disclosure.
  • Provide access to information within a public arena. This information can be limited to the internal citizens of an organization.
  • Publicize areas of responsibility and accountability among the administrative team.
  • Reveal information regarding yourself that is pertinent to your position and activities.
  • Disclose any apparent, potential, or actual conflicts of interest.
  • Limit interlinking of personal and professional relationships, if they are present, ensure that the exact nature of the relationship is known.
  • Encourage open meetings, publicize closed “executive” sessions prior to the meetings.
  • Publicize meeting agendas.
  • Have an open door policy.
  • Have open meetings with no agenda and encourage open questions and dialogue.
  • Publicize strategic vision, mission, and strategic plans. Consider posting action plans of the strategic plan.
  • Provide access to outcome and other evaluation data.
  • Ensure that the fiscal management has an open process that provides individuals with access to the organization’s financial data.

Conflict of Interest

Transparency is one means to avoid conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest occurs when an individual has a conflict between personal or private interest and the responsibilities associated with their position of authority. Conflicts of interest do not only pertain to financial benefits. Conflict of interest does not always have to be actual with tangible outcomes but conflict of interest can exist even if others perceive that there is the appearance of a conflict of interest. There are several types of conflicts of interest: objective, subjective, potential, actual, or apparent. An objective conflict of interest involves a financial relationship. A subjective conflict of interest is based on emotional ties or a relationship. A potential conflict of interest occurs when an individual has an interest that may influence their judgment and decisions in the future. An actual conflict of interest occurs when an individual has an interest that impacts their judgment and they engaged in an activity that is directly related to the area of the conflict. An apparent conflict of interest occurs when there is no actual conflict of interest but other persons looking at the situation perceive that there is an actual conflict of interest (Velasquez, 2006). An individual’s employment position, profession, and personal obligations and responsibilities influence conflicts of interest.

Regardless of the type of conflict, engagement in a conflict of interest activity is considered unethical behavior. The best strategy regarding conflicts of interest is to prevent or avoid an actual or perceived conflict of interest. The following measures are recommended to avoid conflict of interest:

  • Maintain role clarity.
  • Act in accordance with rules and regulations.
  • Follow the letter and intent or spirit of the policy.
  • Recognize potential conflicts of interest early.
  • Identify primary and secondary constituents of a potential conflict of interest.
  • Examine and reflect on any potential conflict of interest.
  • Review policies governing potential conflicts of interest.
  • Discuss potential conflicts of interest with individuals whose span of authority encompasses the area of potential conflict.
  • Secure an opinion regarding the potential conflict of interest prior to engaging in an activity that may be determined a conflict of interest.

Summary Points

  • The public expects accountability in all aspects of governmental relations.
  • Ethics is defined as the study of the nature and justification of principles that guide individuals to act in a moral manner that is consistent with society’s customs, values, beliefs, and norms.
  • Professional ethics “seek out the values and standards that have been developed by practitioners and leaders of a given profession over a long period of time and… identify those values that seem most salient and inherent” to the professional discipline.
  • Applied ethics adopts a point of view that promotes practical application in real-world ethical issues.
  • Deontology states that an action’s moral rightness or wrongness depends on the action itself and the motivation behind the action.
  • The utilitarian framework proposes that the most ethical action is that which results in the greatest good for the largest number of individuals,
  • The most common principles encountered in ethics are beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice, and autonomy.
  • Beneficence consists of weighing the benefits of an action against the risks or costs to the individual, group, or community involved.
  • Nonmaleficence is the ethical principle of “doing no harm.”
  • Justice is the principle of being fair and equitable.
  • The principle of autonomy provides individuals with the right to make free, uncoerced, and informed decisions.
  • The value clarification process promotes clarity regarding an individual’s personal and professional values that form the foundation for their thoughts and actions in relation to policy and politics.
  • The value clarification process promotes self-reflection to identify an individual’s values and value system.
  • Ethical decision-making processes facilitate the selection of an ethical resolution by outlining the steps that promote an understanding of the ethical dilemma and the preferred resolution.
  • Transparency is a strategy to avoid conflicts of interest and promote trust.

References

American League of Lobbyists. (2010). Code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.alldc.org/ethicscode.cfm

Beauchamp, T., & Childress, J. (2008). Principles of biomedical ethics (6th ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Callahan, D., & Jennings, B. (2002). Ethics and public health: Forging a strong relationship. American Journal of Public Health, 92(2), 169–176.

Coletta, S. (1978). Value clarification in nursing: Why? American Journal of Nursing, 78(12), 2057.

Josephson Institute of Ethics. (1999). Five steps of principled reasoning. Retrieved from http://www.cs.bgsu.edu/maner/heuristics/1999JosephsonInstitute.htm

H.R. Doc. No. 64-103 (1958).

Porche, D. (2003). Public and community health nursing practice: A population-based approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Raths, L., Harmin, M., & Simon, S. (1966). Values and teaching. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merill.

Velasquez, M. (2006). Business ethics: Concepts and cases (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.