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About this book

In this hugely accessible new book, Mark Doel guides the reader through a proper consideration of these questions by examining the typical ethical dilemmas that challenge social workers on a daily basis. Inquisitive, probing and intellectually stimulating, Rights and Wrongs in Social Work untangles the complexity of ethics in social work and argues that, by constantly questioning our assumptions and the situations we find ourselves in, we will eventually come to a better understanding of what is right.


Each chapter of the book is centred on a different real-life dilemma that social workers might face on a typical day in practice – such as relationship boundaries, confidentiality and whistleblowing. Clear and enormously readable, it uses a wealth of creative and engaging features and techniques to support learning and encourage readers to apply theory to practice, including:


• A vast array of vibrant case studies and detailed practice examples
• Time Boxes to link chapter topics with ethical dilemmas from history
• The Big Picture sections to place ethical issues into the wider frame of public policy
• Discussion of the guidance available from official codes, standards and principles, such as the IFSW/ IASSW's joint Statement of Ethical Principles



An invaluable resource for students and practitioners alike, Rights and Wrongs in Social Work draws on the author's many years of experience in the field to successfully unpack the complex concepts of ethics and values in a clear, thought-provoking way.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
How do you know what is right? Then, if and when you know what is right, how do you do what is right? Is doing right as a social worker different? And, as a social worker, once you know what is right how do you do what is right? Ought we to cultivate social workers who are like the general populace, or do we want social workers who have special moral qualities and, if so, what are these qualities? How ought you to decide what to do in those situations where doing right for one person conflicts with doing right for another – is there an over-riding ‘rightness’? Is it more important to do good or to avoid wrong? And how do all these questions connect to values, ethics and morals? This book is based on the premise that good social work springs from a better understanding of rights and wrongs. Social work is not at all unique in this respect (think of the complexity of medical and legal ethics) but social workers are particularly entwined with notions of rights and wrongs, with the relationship between the individual and society, and with the struggles of power and marginality. Social work’s holistic perspective on individuals in their families in their communities in their society makes the social worker’s moral landscape especially interesting and challenging; and the powers that social workers can exercise give them a particular responsibility to be accountable, morally accountable, for their actions. This duty is the keener because the individuals and communities with which social workers work are often poor and marginalised, though not without their own resilience and strengths.
Mark Doel

2. Rights and Wrongs

Abstract
The ethical and moral issues at the heart of this book have been the subject of serious thought for many millennia. My purpose in the chapters that follow is to relate these timeless discourses to social work and to the everyday judgements that social workers must make during the course of their work. But first, before you consider your own response to the detail of a dilemma (that will come soon enough in the chapters ahead) I would like you to reflect on how deep or broad your engagement is with ethical and moral issues. How interesting do you find these following questions? 1. Suppose that being well-off could be bought at the price of personal excellence, would it be a reasonable bargain? Put another way, is it better to have the goods most worth having or to be the sort of person most worth being? 2. Can someone be too virtuous for their own good? 3. Is there such a thing as moral weakness and moral ignorance? If so, what are they and how might they show themselves? 4. Do you think that each individual human person has an ‘infinite worth’? 5. When is it right to practise self-denial? 6. Is the desire to do what is right sufficient in itself? 7. How do we know that an act is ‘conscientious’ or not (for example, that someone who refuses to fight in a war is refusing out of conscientious pacifism rather than cowardice)?
Mark Doel

3. Professionalism, Power and Self-Determination

Abstract
The idea of professionalism is broad and open to various interpretations. Colloquially, ‘unprofessional’ behaviour is often associated with casual relationships or appearance, a notion that can come into conflict with some basic social work values about equality and relationship-based work (Ruch et al., 2010). Professionalism and power are bound up in many ways, not least by the question of who has the power to define what is, or ought to be, professional behaviour and who determines and enforces professional standards. Professional ethics Professional ethics consist of the set of values that are shared by members of the same profession, often gathered into a code to which members of a profession are expected, even required, to subscribe. Countries where social work has legal standing and where there are professional social work associations have their own national codes of ethics. An example of one of the most recent codes is that developed by the Georgian Association of Social Workers (GASW, 2005), alongside professional standards for Georgian social workers (2007). Relevant items from various national codes feature in the Guidance section towards the end of this chapter and Chapters 4–10. Professional ethics take account of the position of trust conferred on individual practitioners when they exercise powers on behalf of the wider community. Professional etiquette is, therefore, of a different order than personal conduct.
Mark Doel

4. Value Conflicts

Abstract
The dilemmas that social workers face are often associated with conflicts in values. These stem both from within the profession because of the elusive, complex and contested nature of social work and its purposes; and also from the friction between various social systems. These seismic zones are illustrated below (Figures 4.1 and 4.2) where the overlapping edges represent the areas of regular conflicts in values. Some conflicts play out within the individual as he or she tries to determine which of two or more values should triumph when each would lead to a different course of action; for instance whether to vote for a leader of a party with whose principles one agrees or whether to vote for a leader who seems more likely to win the next election. These conflicts can be difficult to resolve, but they need not involve other people. Other value conflicts arise between your own and those of other people – colleagues, service users, the management of the agency, the law, etc. These situations are more complex because of the number of variables involved and also because of the power dimension (see Chapter 3); some moral players in these conflicts are more powerful than others, so it is not necessarily the best (most ethical) outcome that is achieved, but the one that carries the heaviest weight. Let us consider the different circumstances that can give rise to these conflicts in professional settings.
Mark Doel

5. Decision-Making

Abstract
‘A student approached the existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre, for help with a moral quandary. The student was faced with a choice between going to England to join the Free French Forces and staying in France to care for his ageing mother. As each option held a different type of moral attraction for him, he asked Sartre for advice as to how he should resolve this practical dilemma. ‘After considering the student’s situation, Sartre responded with what must have seemed a very unhelpful suggestion: “You are free, so choose.” At first glance, Sartre’s response may seem to support an interpretation of his ethical theory as a form of subjectivism. However, Sartre’s recognition that, in this type of situation, no theory of morality could help the student decide how to act does not necessarily entail that there are no objective values. It may simply be that moral values are such that they do not always point to a single course of action.’ (Crowe, 2004: 29) All the dilemmas in this book require a decision, even when the decision is to do nothing. As illustrated in ‘Time box: 1940’, Sartre’s moral universe has us all free to choose – or condemned to choose, depending on how we see each decision-making event. The story also lends the insight that dilemmas and decision-making are by no means always about binary choices, either this or that. The limits of moral reasoning are not just that ‘the scales’ might fail to help us decide which of the pans is the weightier, but that the pans themselves might be inadequate or fail to provide us with the full story.
Mark Doel

6. Need and Risk

Abstract
One of the most famous maxims, popularised by Marx (1875), centres on the idea of need: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’. However, the emphasis over time on needs has rather obscured abilities; are there moral obligations to make use of our abilities, both in terms of an obligation to self-actualise (not waste our talents) and for the benefit of the community at large? There are needs that we recognise in common, such as food, love and sleep, and others that are particular, such as the way a blind person might need a guide dog and a sighted person would not. A sighted person might want a dog, which might fulfil a desire for companionship, but it is hard to think of circumstances in which we would assert that he needs a dog. ‘I need eight hours’ sleep’ is different from ‘I want eight hours’ sleep’. If I only need six hours’ sleep, yet I sleep for eight hours because I want to, I might be accused of laziness. ‘I need sleep’, ‘I want to sleep’, and ‘I desire sleep’ all place different moral obligations on the sleepers and those around them. We all need sleep, so deliberate sleep deprivation is wrong. Insomniacs might desire sleep as something difficult to achieve and we might agree that there is a moral obligation to alleviate the pain of sleeplessness and satisfy their desire; but is the obligation not to cause harm (by deliberate sleep deprivation) greater than the obligation to alleviate suffering (by facilitating sleep)?
Mark Doel

7. Relationship Boundaries and Disclosure

Abstract
Social workers are licensed to get close to people. Indeed, the various public service professionals have different kinds of permission to get closer to strangers than normal social situations would allow. Patients take their clothes off and consent to intimate inspections of their bodies by doctors, actions that would be prosecutable in other circumstances. Social workers help service users to take off their ‘emotional clothes’ to expose thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are not always acceptable outside the social work encounter. It is part of what makes a social work encounter different from a social encounter. Social work has a particular responsibility with regard to this emotional disrobing because of the powers that lie in the wings. Service users’ honesty when all is laid bare can then be used in ways that might be at odds with their own interests. At the heart of this dilemma lies the fact that social work is as responsible to the broader community as it is to the individual service user, whose dealings with social workers are not privileged like those with lawyers and priests (Chapter 8). Medicine has some parallel dilemmas; for example, the examination that reveals a condition that will increase the patient’s insurance premium or restrict their ability to drive. Should the patient be warned of the possible consequences of a particular investigation (and, therefore, decline to submit themselves to it) or does the public at large have the right to know whether an individual poses a risk behind the wheel of a car?
Mark Doel

8. Sharing Information and Confidentiality

Abstract
Decisions about information and how or whether it should be shared are commonplace in both personal and professional lives and feature in many other chapters in this book, but their prevalence makes them no easier to resolve. Let us first explore an illustration from a personal situation: You see your best friend’s husband at the theatre with another woman. Do you tell your best friend or keep quiet? And what do you base your decision on? First, there is a desire to explain the situation to yourself and to explore the possible social meanings. Observing their behaviour, the explanation that strikes you as the most obvious is that they are ‘having an affair’. However, your choice of words to give meaning to your observations already begins to define it – ‘having an affair’. Could it be that your friend and her husband have a very private arrangement, such that this is not therefore ‘an affair’? Or perhaps your observations are incorrect. The intimacies that you see are, in fact, those of two people who have known one another for a long time. The theatre is, after all, a public occasion so this cannot be a secret ‘affair’, otherwise why risk exposing it? Perhaps your friend cannot use her ticket and, last minute, her husband has asked a long-standing woman friend to join him. Perhaps it is indiscreet of you to be making these observations in the first place. Have you yourself been observed observing and would this make a difference to what you do or say when you next meet your friend, if you know that the husband has seen you or not?
Mark Doel

9. Rules, Disobedience and Whistleblowing

Abstract
Is it ever right to disobey the law and does it make a difference whether the law in question is in a totalitarian or democratic society? In some political philosophies the duty to civic obedience is dependent on the government’s commitment to promoting the ‘common good’ (Plamenatz, 1938); and the corollary is a duty to overthrow a government that is not promoting the common good. However, it is far from straightforward to decide what is ‘common’ or ‘good’ about the ‘common good’. The philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) considered the nature of tacit consent; that, for instance, by travelling in a country you tacitly accept its laws. By working in an agency do you tacitly accept its policies? Political obligations are not absolute: the Nuremberg defence (‘I was only following orders’) was disallowed. Our ultimate obligation to obey the law is a moral obligation and not a legal obligation. It cannot be a legal obligation, for this would lead to an infinite regress – since legal obligations derive from laws, there would have to be a law that says we must obey the law. What obligation would there then be to obey this law? If legal obligation, then there would have to be another law … and so on. If there is any obligation to obey the law it must, ultimately, be a moral obligation. (Singer, 1973: 3, my italics) It is no longer ‘Why ought I to obey the law?’, but ‘When ought I to obey the law?’ and ‘When do I have an obligation not to obey the law?’
Mark Doel

10. Social Media

Abstract
The growth of social media is a phenomenon that will continue to have a profound impact on our personal and professional lives. To some extent ethical dilemmas arising from social media are not dissimilar to those we have considered in other chapters, such as confidentiality, the use of information and the boundaries of professional and personal relationships. The question is, does the nature of social media now amplify these dilemmas (and, indeed, possibilities) to such an extent that they have become qualitatively different? There are parallels with other aspects of human life. For example, war has always been violent and destructive, but it can be argued that developments in technology during the twentieth century (the tank, fighter jet, nuclear bomb and the industrialisation of civilian death in concentration camps) have transformed not just the quantitative element of war but the qualitative one as well. So, does the extent and immediacy with which information can be shared and the numbers of people who can be linked at the click of a mouse, change the qualitative nature of the dilemmas associated with social media, not just the quantitative aspects? We must remind ourselves that technological social media are in their infancy and that appropriate social norms and etiquette take time to evolve to keep pace. The law is also playing catch-up.
Mark Doel

11. Moral Crusades, Panics, Guardians, Luck and Compass

Abstract
Titus Oates fabricated a plot by English Catholics to assassinate the king, Charles II – The ‘Popish Plot’. Plots against Protestant monarchs were credible and the accusations proved expedient for various Whig politicians as well as popular with the Protestant mob. The growing wave of moral panic resulted in the executions of 15 entirely innocent people. It took three years before the backlash set in and popular sentiment turned against Oates. Under the Catholic king, James II, he was tried for perjury, pilloried and imprisoned, only to be rehabilitated to a pension on the accession of the Protestant William III. A moral panic is an ‘exaggerated or misdirected public concern, anxiety, fear, or anger over a perceived threat to social order’ (Krinsky, 2013: 1); a panic often occurs when a moral crusade launched by moral entrepreneurs manning the moral barricades runs out of control (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 2009: 67). The Popish Plot (time box above) is one of countless examples of the hysteria that can grab hold of large groups of people, even whole nations, usually aimed at a minority group: Catholics in the Popish Plot, Jews in the 1890s French Dreyfuss Affair, people with HIV-AIDS in the 1980s and young people in general in the ecstasy drug scares of the 1990s. As I write, the latest is Donald Trump’s call for all Muslims to be turned away from the US. Moral panics, like economic bubbles, are a regular if volatile feature of social life, flaring and collapsing with no apparent rhyme nor reason.
Mark Doel

12. Glossary of Ethical and Other Terms

Abstract
a priori A statement that is taken and understood as truthful in itself with no need for further proof or justification. beneficence Seeking to do good. case-based ethics – see casuism casuism Treating each situation case by case rather than applying principles or a strict rule book. categorical imperative – see Kantian consequentialism When giving moral weight to any action, the primary concern is to understand the likely consequences of the action; this is a teleological approach. defeasible A proposition that depends on various and varying factors that are subject to refutation, and that lead to an inconclusive all-things-being-equal outcome, open to various interpretations. deontological Duty-based ethical theories in which principles are accepted as ‘givens’; acting morally is doing your duty regardless of consequences and according to absolute rules that are always valid – for instance, that it is always right to tell the truth and, therefore, it is your duty to be honest.
Mark Doel
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