An ethicist’s pet peeve: People who misuse formal ethics rules to justify unethical or stupid behavior because they never thought about what why the rule exists.
This happens a lot. My favorite example was the famous athlete enmeshed in a scandal. Ay a press conference, he said that he couldn’t answer specific questions because of “atttorney-client privilege,” and not one of the reporters had the education to say, “Huh? You’re the client! The attorney-client privilege prevents your lawyer from revealing what you told him. It doesn’t stop you from revealing anything, you cretin.” In my seminars, when an attendee cites a professional ethics rule as the reason why he shouldn’t do something, I often ask, “And why is that a rule? What’s wrong with what it forbids?” Often, disturbingly often, the individual has no idea.
The New York Times today featured another example: medical providers and others not even subject to the law using HIPAA to avoid giving out information they could and should give out, in mots cases misinterpreting the law to do so. Among the examples in the Times story:
- A retirement home refusing to tell friends of a resident that the resident had died (only health care providers, health insurers, clearinghouses that manage and store health data, and their business associates are covered by The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. a.k.a. HIPAA)
- A hospital that refused to accept information about a patient’s allergies from the patient’s daughter (Wow: hospitals can receive medical information; HIPAA restricts the ways they can disclose it)
- Another relative of a patient reprimanded by hospital staff for talking about her loved one’s medical problems in the cafeteria, because, she was told, it was a HIPAA violation.
- A minister told a church staff not to announce the names of ailing church members because it was would violate HIPAA (That’s right: he really thought it was against the law to tell congregation that someone was sick.)
- Some providers cite HIPAA to block patients from seeing their own records.
This is why morality alone doesn’t make people ethical, especially if they aren’t very bright. Continue reading