Ethics Education: Can You Change a Moral Compass?

Samantha Strong

During the Nov. 13 keynote address for the Future of Professional Ethics workshop, “Committed Professionals: Handling Obstacles to Ethics,” Lisa M. Lee, Ph.D., M.A., M.S., Executive Director for the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, discussed the importance of ethical preparedness in public health. Such preparedness, she argued, is essential to outbreak and disease management; it is a key component to effectively navigate the political realm; and it is the foundation upon which difficult decisions are made. Such preparedness, she stated, is the responsibility of every professional. Such preparedness can be generated through education.

Ethics is everywhere. In the allocation of scarce resources, the application of big data, traversing the political realm, and in the use of authority — ethics is everywhere. And it is for this reason ethics training should be integrated into the education of all professionals, particularly among public health professionals. The day’s conversations revolved around the application and inclusion of ethics training: Should scientists receive ethics training? How should such training be incorporated into public health professional’s education? What about medical schools? How much can we depend on IRBs for ethical matters? What is our responsibility? The conclusion was unequivocal: Ethics training and preparedness are everyone’s responsibility. Physicians, politicians, drug manufacturers, research scientists, public health professionals — we are all ethically responsible. What did remain unanswered, however, was how to ensure all professionals are adequately prepared.

Ethics education and training should be integrated into all professionals’ educations. While this is easier said than done, ethically important issues demand successful application. The incorporation of bioethical training and preparedness in public health curricula will enhance ethical preparedness and hasten the assimilation of ethics across disciplines. As Dr. Lee noted, “having a straight moral compass and being ethical are not the same thing.” Public health educators are not responsible to straighten students and professionals’ moral compasses; they are obliged to teach and prepare their students for an ethical and effectual career. Public health is an “ultra-disciplinary” field, making it a beautiful challenge worth undertaking. Ethical competency is necessary to successfully take on such a challenge.

Public health professionals are not the only ones responsible for ethical competency. It is on the shoulders of all professionals, including scientists. Dr. Lee noted the occasionally strained relationship between science and ethics, stating that such a relationship is not an “ either or an or, but an and.” Science is not the enemy, but it is up to all professionals to learn and discover what we should do in addition to what we can do. Many barriers are preventing ethics from entering the public health sphere, but beneficence, ethics, and responsibility are necessary components in the public health sector. Serving the public requires fulfilling many roles, facing many conflicts, and making difficult decisions. All are enhanced in a humanitarian, civic, and societal level when built upon a foundation of ethics. Ethical preparedness and education can lay this foundation.

Samantha Strong is an undergraduate student at Indiana University studying bioethics and political and civic engagement. 

December 14, 2015

 Share  Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Follow Facebooktwitterlinkedin
Ken Pimple

About Ken Pimple

I've been involved in the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics before its actual creation. I am coordinating the international conversation on the future of practical and professional ethics for APPE, and organizing five workshops that will be held at Indiana University in Bloomington in academic year 2014-15.

Leave a Reply