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A Few Thoughts in Response to the Proposed APA Ethical Principles

by Alice LoCicero, PhD

APA’s proposed revised ethical principles, issued in July, 2020,
contain within them permission to violate human rights in instances
where psychologists with dual loyalties have to choose between acting
in accord with human rights or following orders to violate them. This
failure suggests that psychologists have learned virtually nothing
about dual loyalty issues since the infamous 2002 ethical code, and
the even more infamous PENS report, gave permission to military
psychologists to witness, support, and give approval to  war crimes
without violating the ethical code or being subject to losing their
licenses to practice. These new proposed principles could have
endorsed refusal to follow unethical orders or laws. Instead, they
serve to affirm the repeated failures of the organization to expect of
members that they actually fulfill the mission of the organization:
“…to benefit society and improve peoples’ lives. “

The proposed principles contain multiple instances of what a colleague
called “slippery verbs” such as “attempt” “make efforts” “strive to.”
When discussing human rights—omitting any reference to the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights–they state, in a note, that the “human
rights” are merely “aspirational,” and likely to be violated because
of “human nature.”  Does psychology, then, view human nature as
hopeless?  The note goes on to say that civil rights and civil
liberties—in contrast with human rights–can be codified into law,
leaving psychologists again to determine for themselves whether to act
in support of human rights, or in accordance with imperfect, often
unethical, though legal, codes. This might be read as a way for
military psychologists, or psychologists working for the Department of
Homeland Security, among others, faced with “legal” violations of
human rights—for example, babies ripped from their parents at the
border– to ignore the violations of human rights, opting instead to
act in accord with the letter of (inhumane) law.

If APA is to become an organization that actually expects its members
to fulfill that mission, it will have to stop equivocating on
questions of acting to promote human rights, vs following lawful, but
unethical, orders. To do that it will have to end, once and for all,
it’s pathological dependence on military, security, and corporate
benefactors—dependence  that led the organization to support and cover
up for war criminals during the Bush torture era and that,
disappointing as it is, continue to influence it.