By Fr. Jim Huth
Members’ contact with the NACC Ethics Commission is normally limited to signing the Ethics Accountability Statement upon certification. But this narrow connection may leave members wondering where to go within NACC if they have ethics questions.
Part of the work of the Ethics Commission is to do just that: to assist members in interpreting how the Code of Ethics can help guide their professional practice. Far beyond formal complaints, we are available as a resource to help resolve conflicts at an early stage.
Of course, the Commission does deal with any ethics complaints against a member. If a member feels it is necessary to register a complaint against another member for a perceived violation of the Code of Ethics, the first step is to contact the National Office. If the person filing the complaint has questions about the process or is uncertain of whether to proceed, the person has the option to talk with the chair of the Ethics Commission. This step is a confidential and informal process to address the member’s questions or concerns.
A formal complaint will need to cite the standards of the Code of Ethics that the member believes have been breached. However, many standards in the code are broad in scope and do not function as self-contained rules or regulations. Instead, they are intended to provide guidance when facing ethical challenges that members may encounter. Experience shows that ethics is rarely ever black or white, nor is the solution to a complaint as clear-cut as one might think.
Strong feelings can easily surface when one is determined to right a wrong or sees their position as indisputable. If such feelings overtake the process, it can heighten the conflict. One good way to lessen the conflict and cultivate a resolution is to consider the “art of pause” that Cynda Hylton Rushton, RN invites those in healthcare to do if they are confronted with troubling ethical choices:
Do you ever notice how difficult it becomes when you are embroiled in an ethical conflict to stop long enough to reflect on your own motivations, much less the motivations of others? Or how easily we begin to create our own story about the situation, often projecting meanings and understandings through our own filters? Sometimes the most difficult thing to do is to create enough space for something new to emerge. Often we are busy justifying our own position, searching for the reasons the other person is wrong, and working hard to manipulate the outcome to the one we desire. Sound familiar? This dynamic becomes intensified when we are in situations where deeply held values are at stake.
Rushton’s urging for “something new to emerge” is basically an increased sense of self-awareness to what motivates and feeds ethical conflicts. She also brings subtle attention to the heart of what ethics itself maintains and what NACC encourages: members first ought to attempt to resolve perceived breaches at the local level. Moreover, the NACC Ethics Procedures invite members “to resolve grievances in an informal and collegial manner.”
The Ethics Commission ensures that members have recourse if they believe a member has breached the Code of Ethics. Contained within that mandate is our commitment to do more than just settle ethics complaints. When a member wonders how best to interpret or apply the standards of the Code in professional practice, we can assist in this discernment process. A way to initiate such a conversation is by contacting the Commission through the NACC national office.
Fr. Jim Huth, BCC, is chair of the NACC Ethics Commission and staff chaplain at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.