A Case For Professional Ethics

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ethicsProfessional Ethics encompass the personal, organizational and corporate standards of behaviour expected of professionals. Professionals, and those working in acknowledged professions, exercise specialist knowledge and skill. Most professions have internally enforced codes of practice that members of the profession must follow to prevent exploitation of the client and to preserve the integrity of the profession. This is not only for the benefit of the client but also for the benefit of those belonging to the profession. Disciplinary codes allow the profession to define a standard of conduct and ensure that individual practitioners meet this standard, by disciplining them from the professional body if they do not practice accordingly. This allows those professionals who act with conscience to practice in the knowledge that they will not be undermined  by those who have fewer ethical qualms. It also maintains the public’s trust in the profession, encouraging the public to continue seeking their services.

Ethical Behavior is also defined as a set, or system of, moral values and principles that are based on honesty and truthfulness and have been accepted as professional standards. To police officers, coroners, death investigators and criminal justice in general;  the ethical mind-set additionally includes:  Integrity, courage and allegiance.   Let’s make a case for professional ethics.

Professional Ethics in Medicolegal Death Investigation

Paul R. Parker III, B.S., D-ABMDI 

  1. Introduction
    1. MLDI personnel are placed in a position of public trust
      1. We are involved at the most catastrophic of times for decedents and next-of-kin (NOK)
    2. Plenty of materials re: ethics and law enforcement
      1. Not necessarily on ethics and medicolegal death investigation (MLDI)
    3. Plenty of emphasis on actual MLDI but:
      1. Limited focus on the ethics, character, and behavior of MLDI personnel
      2. Limited focus on management/supervision of MLDI personnel
    4. National Academy of Sciences: Strengthening Forensic Science in US (2009)
      1. Recommended a National Code of Ethics for all forensic science professionals

 

  1. Professional Ethics
  2. Edwin Delattre (Character and Cops: Ethics in Policing)
    1. Character
      1. First nature
        1. Instant gratification as infants, indifferent to the effect of our wants on others
      2. Second nature
        1. As grow, learn, and are trained develop better or worse dispositions and habits
        2. Unless possessing an abnormal defect, most of the time good or bad character depends upon upbringing
  • Bad habits are hard to break
    1. Character can be reformed later in life
  1. Good character can be obtained by habituation in youth, observation and imitation of others, rejection of bad behavior by others, and continued practice of behaving well
    1. Challenged when growing up and not just made to do easy and interesting tasks results in people who are incapable of doing anything that is disagreeable and does not result in immediate gratification
  2. Types of character
    1. Bad character
      1. Seek opportunities to profit from others
      2. Must be removed from a position of public trust
    2. Uncontrolled
      1. They have a “price’ and can be reached
      2. Must be removed from a position of public trust
    3. Self-controlled
      1. Will do the right thing but resent it and the standard to which they are held
      2. Tension between duty and desire
      3. Management must provide guidance and leadership on how to deal with temptation
    4. Excellent
      1. Truly incorruptible
      2. Money is only “green paper”
    5. Intelligence without good character is dangerous
  3. Front Page Test
  4. What do you do when no one is watching
  5. Doing the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reason toward the right people
  6. Duty to profession
    1. Education
    2. Continuous improvement
    3. Focus on demeanor, appearance
  7. Duty to public
  8. Noblest motive is the public good
  9. Confidentiality
  10. Respect for decedent
    1. Cover body at scene
    2. Manipulation during reparation for transport
    3. Comments about
      1. “Crispy critter”
      2. “Floater”
  • “Decomp”
  1. “Ped Spread”
  1. Respect for NOK
    1. Interact with them at their most vulnerable and lowest period of life
  2. Safeguarding of property
    1. Last notified and on-scene, first accused of taking something, inappropriate activities
    2. Theft of personal property/money
      1. From scene
      2. From body
    3. Theft of medication
  3. Integrity
    1. Truth telling
      1. No lying or omissions
    2. Falsification of documents
      1. Time cards
      2. Reports
    3. False statements during investigations
      1. Cases
        1. Scenes
        2. Telephone
      2. Internal investigations
    4. Impartiality and neutrality
    5. Reports
      1. Thorough
      2. Factual
        1. Leave anything out?
          1. Conversations with pathologists, other investigators
        2. NOK
          1. Notification
            1. Knock once (lightly) and then leave a card
            2. Due diligence in searching for them
          2. Interaction with NOK
            1. What to disclose to them during notification, investigation, follow-up
            2. What to leave out during conversations
          3. Timeliness of interaction with NOK
            1. Prior to media notification of cause and manner
          4. Extent of interaction with
            1. Developing personal relationships
          5. Expectation of gratitude
        3. Harassment, bullying of co-workers, subordinates, gossiping
        4. Public life vs. private life
          1. Appropriate activities while on-duty
            1. Above reproach
            2. Professional
  • Moral and ethical behaviors, not:
    1. Inappropriate relationships/sex on-duty
    2. Alcohol
    3. Theft
    4. Disrespect
    5. Gratuities
    6. Favoritism
    7. Inappropriate activities with decedents
  1. Appropriate activities while off-duty
    1. Criminal activities
    2. Alcohol
  • Sex
  1. Domestic violence

 

  • Fostering Professional Integrity
    1. MLDI personnel must be trust-worthy and of high character and integrity
    2. Selecting right people
      1. Background
        1. Written
        2. Interview
        3. Role playing
        4. Psychological
        5. Polygraph
        6. Criminal history check
          1. LE sends background investigators to talk to neighbors, former acquaintances
        7. Credit check
      2. New hire
        1. Code of ethics
          1. Most include:
            1. Must not exercise professional or personal conduct adverse to best interests of agency/certifying body
            2. Must not misrepresent education, training, experience
  • Must not misrepresent data, findings, etc.
  1. Code of conduct
    1. Should include:
      1. decedents, customers, and co-workers shall be treated with dignity, respect, and courtesy at all times
      2. services shall be provided in accordance with applicable federal, state, and local laws, rules and regulations,
  • working environment shall be free from all forms of harassment, discrimination, or intimidation shall be maintained
  1. employee will not be required to compromise his or her appropriate or established professional standards or objectivity in the performance of his or her duties
  2. participate in and encourage activities that promote quality assurance and continuous improvement
  3. work culture that promotes the prevention, detection, and resolution of instances of conduct that do not conform to ethical or legal standards and to this Code of Conduct
  1. Relies upon:
    1. Members willing to follow
    2. Management must enforce/”buy in”
  2. Training program
  3. Policies
  4. Procedures
  5. Probationary period
  • Continuing
    1. Management must model ethical behavior
      1. Walk the walk
      2. Do not look the other way when it comes to ethics and integrity issues
    2. Peer counseling

 

About the Author
Darren is a 30 year veteran of law enforcement and criminal investigations. He currently serves as an investigator for the Crawford County Missouri coroner’s office. He holds credentials as an instructor for the Missouri Sheriff’s Training Academy, has served as president of the Missouri Medical Examiners and Coroners Association, and is certified and credentialed in numerous fields of investigation. He holds the position of lead instructor and facilitator for the Coroner Talk™ community as he speaks and writes in the area of death investigation and scene management.

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