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Proving Ethical Credentials: What?

“Ethics” and proving “Ethical Credentials” have become new buzz words in almost all spheres of life including medical practice, medical research, all the way through to business Ethics and commercial “Ethical” investments. In this short series, we explore some key principles and ideas associated with proving one’s own Ethical Credentials.  


“Ethics” is one of those topics for which one can write pages upon pages without actually defining it. How does one then take a matter that cannot be properly defined and actually wear an ethical credential? In fact, one could argue that, just by being and living, we all live by certain ethical rules and principles whether this is consciously or unconsciously known to us or not.

We can start at the very beginning. Creation and Human Birth itself, being the miraculous event that it is, involves a keen demonstration of Ethics. The one sperm (amongst millions) that gets an opportunity to fertilise the ovum is usually the healthiest and most able candidate. Have all the other sperms of lesser (perhaps only slightly lesser) ability been a wasted resource? Is it ethical that all these sperms have been produced and they have had almost no chance of fulfilling their mission at the time of their creation? Science tells us that this mechanism is just nature’s way of maximising the chances of human fertilisation. So, this tells us that it must be natural and ethical that some amount of wasteful redundancy is built in to this activity and almost all further activities involving human interaction.

The unselfish mother has to endure months of hardships to ensure the delivery into the world of a new human being. The baby somehow knows that its main job is to eat and grow, babies know when to smile to get appreciation and know when to cry and get attention. The weighing up of choices of daily living continues in the background, while the ultimate priority of child birth and growth is happening regardless of the fine details of those choices. One could therefore postulate that every mother and baby is inherently “Ethical” due to the very fact of their existence.

Every individual also has to have a certain amount of ethical credentials to interact with society. Growing up in a caring environment implies adherence to and incorporation of certain ethical principles (ensuring everyone has enough food, equitable distribution of toys, respect for elders who may visit the family home….). Regular attendance at school enables a disciplined approach to learning and interactions with friends and teachers, this also enables further refinement of ethics. Higher education provides an opportunity to further improve upon basic skills, some of these may relate to highly technical aspects of the course subject, but again, there is frequently an emphasis on asking questions and seeking solutions, which also involves a certain discrimination and possibly involves comparison with established convention which is all likely based on a platform of good ethical practice.

The scenario of finding a mate and starting a family may not present itself as an obvious candidate involving ethical scrutiny, but one could argue that this is happening at a subconscious level, and although mates may have been chosen on their appearance, achievements, ambitions, potential to improve standard of life and so on, all of these are usually based on a platform of ethical principles at their core. While one may not have ethics on a checklist, while choosing a mate, this is frequently implied and assumed.

Our index candidate has now completed higher studies, settled down with a mate and is now faced with a growing burden at home and work. Newly appointed freshers in the job may do the same job much faster and it may be time to take on senior roles in the organisation to guide these youngsters, climb the career ladder as well as earn some more money to feed the family. The most frequently used tool to decide on career progression involves some element of performance review. Again, ethics and adherence to ethical principles or wearing ethical credentials may not figure prominently (if at all) on such a checklist, but these principles frequently underpin successful appraisals at performance review.

Our middle-aged person again demonstrates adherence to ethical principles when planning for retirement, ensuring that children are given a helping hand while navigating their own challenges. How does planning for one’s own family demonstrate good ethical practice and not be seen as an act of profound selfishness, whereby the growth and well-being of one’s own family is prioritised over the needs of others? Some famous billionaires have chosen to counter this perception by choosing to donate some or most of their fortune to charity rather than pass it on wholly to their own family. Most individuals (especially non billionaires) do not make such announcements and it is entirely seen as a matter of personal choice and an invasion of privacy, if there is an expectation of announcements of significant donations to charity to enable an “ethical credential”.

Every being that is born has to die, so is there a demonstration of ethics in death? Clearly, if one has a choice in their own death, they would ensure minimal inconvenience to near and dear ones, while trying to maximise benefit to their family, and inheritance tax planning is usually based on minimising tax payments to the state. So, someone who has not conducted adequate inheritance tax planning may inadvertently hand more resource to the state. How can a philosophy based on minimising payments to the state be based on good ethical principles?

So, most humans who conform to standard expectations from society have actually demonstrated some conscious or unconscious awareness of ethics and ethical principles. Does this mean that someone who has not grown up in a caring environment, not undergone formal education, not taken the expected route to family life and job is “ethically” inferior to others who fit more traditional roles? Of course not, we would never label anyone who may be deemed non-conformist by some sections of society as “unethical”. Human Life is too precious and too unpredictable for restrictions to be placed from an ethics perspective. It is of course perfectly possible to breeze through life without appearing “ethical” or demonstrating adherence to “ethical principles”.

So the answer to “what is an ethical credential” is still unanswered in full and perhaps the other questions may give us a clue. This brings us on to “Why”.

To be continued…..

Sobhan Vinjamuri (Key leader with wide experience of Quality Improvement; Regulation; Peer Review; Internal and External Accreditation; Disciplinary Panels; Research, Peer Review of Research, Editorial scrutiny, Comprehensive and Confidential Service Reviews)

Photo Courtesy: Google/ images are subject to copyright 

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