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Ethical codes are specialized and specific codes of ethics. Such codes may be adopted by or on behalf of professions (e.g.,psychologists, doctors etc}, to guide the behavior of members, interactions among members, and interactions between members and the general public.
In the context of a code adopted by a profession or by a governmental or quasi-governmental organ to regulate that profession, an ethical code may be styled as a code of professional responsibility, which may dispense with difficult issues of what behavior is "ethical".
Some codes of ethics have the force of law; these are often promulgated by the (quasi-)governmental agency responsible for licensing a profession. Violations of these codes may be subject to administrative (e.g., loss of license), civil or penal remedies. Other codes can be enforced by the promulgating organization alone; violations of these codes is usually limited to loss of membership in the organization. Other codes are mearly advisory and there are no prescribed remedies for violations or even procedures for determining whether a violation even occurred.
In the context of an organization, a code of ethics is often a formal statement of the organization's values on certain ethical and social issues. Some set out general principles about an organization's beliefs on matters such as quality, employees or the environment. Others set out the procedures to be used in specific ethical situations - such as conflicts of interest or the acceptance of gifts, and delineate the procedures to determine whether a violation of the code of ethics occurred and, if so, what remedies should be imposed. The effectiveness of such codes of ethics depends on the extent to which to management supports them with sanctions and rewards. Violations of a private organization's code of ethics usually can subject the violator to the organization's remedies (in an employment context, this can mean termination of employment; in a membership context, this can mean expulsion). Of course, certain acts that constitute a violation of a code of ethics may also violate a law or regulation and can be punished by the appropriate governmental organ.
They are often not part of any more general theory of ethics but accepted as pragmatic necessities.
Ethical codes are distinct from moral codes that may apply to the culture, education, and religion of a whole society.
Some critics maintain that codes of ethics or professional responsibility actually assist professionals and organizations to be unethical. Compliance with a pre-existing code of ethics has been used as a defense for both professionals and organizations from charges arising from their questionable behavior. For example, is a lawyer defending someone who the lawyer knows is guilty ethical? Would it be ethical for the lawyer to argue that a different identified person committed the crime if that would improve the chances that the guilty client be acquitted? Is it ethical for a doctor to prescribe a drug that has not been approved for use if the doctor sincerely believes it would benefit the patient?
[cp. Chester Megreer, Ethical Management]
- Creating a Code of Ethics for Your Organization by Chris MacDonald.
- ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct from the Association for Computing Machinery.
- Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers, USA.
- Code of Ethics of the American Library Association.
- Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists.
- Model Code of Professional Responsibility of the American Bar Association.
- Links to Bar Associations' Codes maintained by the American Bar Association.