How to Evaluate a Code of Ethics

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It is now a standard practice for public organizations and businesses to create a code of ethics. The concern with ethical codes is motivated by several factors. First, its intent is to identify the core values of the profession. Secondly. it helps to establish the self-identity of a profession and the members. Thirdly, it provides a set of guidelines for how its members treat one another and the public they serve. A code of ethics provides a general framework and not a specific set of values. It is important for a profession to evaluate its code of ethics in order to see if it is actually working or it needs to be revised.


Decide if the code of ethics clear. The general purpose of a code of ethics is to establish a set of standard or values for an organization. It has to walk a fine line between recommending a general set of principles but avoid recommending a specific set of values. Consequently, there is a risk of ambiguity.

Ask yourself if it works. In addition to setting an ethical standard a code of ethics is supposed to define acceptable and unacceptable behavior, provide a sense of identify for its members and provide members with tools to deal with ethical conflicts. Does your profession's ethical code actually accomplish these goals?

Make sure it instills a sense of trust and confidence in the public. In addition to serving the organization itself an ethical code is meant to instill a sense of confidence in the public it serves. For example, medical patients have the right to expect that the medical profession will treat them with dignity and that this will be part of its ethical code. Furthermore, it has the right to assume that the medical profession will punish doctors who act unethically.

Evaluate its enforceability. In order for a code of ethics to work in practice there must be a way of implementing it. Are its values and principles observable in its policies and practices?

Determine if it is revisable or not. The code of ethics must have a way of evaluating and critiquing itself. In practice this means there must be a group who has the power and authority to undertake this task. This may involve various segments who represent different aspects and interests of the profession.