Send a Tweet
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 12 Share on Twitter Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/2/10

American Psychological Association removes infamous "Nuremberg Defense" from ethics code, leaves other ethics loopholes

By       (Page 1 of 1 pages)
(# of views)   1 comment
Author 80
Follow Me on Twitter     Message Stephen Soldz
Become a Fan
  (5 fans)

Last week, the American Psychological Association (APA) finally revised its ethics code so that it no longer contained the so-called "Nuremberg Defense," allowing dispensing with professional ethics when they conflicted with "law, regulations, other governing legal authority." This clause was added in 2002, at the heyday of the Bush administration. APA dissidents, retired military personnel, ethicists, and human rights advocates have long pushed for its removal.

A number of military psychologists who served in or trained the Behavioral Science Consultation Team at Guantanamo (BSCT) had opposed change in this code. Not coincidentally, this section had been emphasized in the instructions for the BSCTs and in the APA's report of the 2005 task force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) where the APA let military-intelligence psychologists create ethics policy for the association.

The ethics code 1.02 has stated since 2002:

If psychologists' ethical responsibilities conflict with law, regulations, or other governing legal authority, psychologists make known their commitment to the Ethics Code and take steps to resolve the conflict. If the conflict is unresolvable via such means, psychologists may adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal authority.

When the change goes into effect in June, this clause will essentially revert to the pre-2002 wording:

If psychologists' ethical responsibilities conflict with law, regulations, or other governing legal authority, psychologists clarify the nature of the conflict, make known their commitment to the Ethics Code and take reasonable steps to resolve the conflict consistent with the General Principles and Ethical Standards of the Ethics Code. Under no circumstances may this standard be used to justify or defend violating human rights

The removal should be a cause for celebration. However, like every change in APA's policies on psychologists providing interrogation support, this change is too little too late. APA leadership waited till over a year after the end of the Bush regime and its "enhanced interrogation" torture program before changing this clause which provided protection for psychologists aiding the torturers. While the Justice Department's OLC torture memos provided legal protection, the APA policy complemented that protection by providing protection from future charges that psychologists aiding detainee abuse violated professional ethics.

While the infamous 1.02 is gone from the ethics code, the less well known but equally disturbing section 8.05 governing research without informed consent is still there. It allows dispensing with informed consent, the bedrock of professional ethics, whenever "law or federal or institutional regulations" say it is OK:

Psychologists may dispense with informed consent only (1) where research would not reasonably be assumed to create distress or harm and involves (a) the study of normal educational practices, curricula, or classroom management methods conducted in educational settings; (b) only anonymous questionnaires, naturalistic observations, or archival research for which disclosure of responses would not place participants at risk of criminal or civil liability or damage their financial standing, employability, or reputation , and confidentiality is protected; or (c) the study of factors related to job or organization effectiveness conducted in organizational settings for which there is no risk to participants' employability, and confidentiality is protected or (2) where otherwise permitted by law or federal or institutional regulations. [emphasis added]

Thus, research on detainees would be acceptable as long as institutional regulations (from the CIA or Defense Department, say) gave permission.

If the APA were really interested in removing loopholes in the ethics code, they would have changed this clause without prodding. I have been calling for change in this and another problematic research ethics clause for years. Unfortunately, the battle to remove loopholes in the ethics code allowing abuse will continue into the indefinite future.

 

Rate It | View Ratings

Stephen Soldz Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)
 
Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Follow Me on Twitter     Writers Guidelines
Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

STAY IN THE KNOW
If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEdNews Newsletter
Name
Email
   (Opens new browser window)
 

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

The Torture Career of Egypt's New Vice President: Omar Suleiman and the Rendition to Torture Program

The Sex Lives and Sexual Frustrations of US troops in Iraq

Letter to Senate Intelligence Committee: Psychologists out of Abusive Interrogations

Veteran Army Interrogators: Torture doesn't work. Torture is wrong. Torture helps the enemy.

American Psychological Association removes infamous "Nuremberg Defense" from ethics code, leaves other ethics loopholes

To View Comments or Join the Conversation: