Ethics, Controversial Treatments, and Applied Behavior Analysis
The word “ethics” refers to a position, or rule, stated in the form of a moral imperative, with the implication that if one’s conduct is guided by this rule, one will be acting ethically. Behavior consistent with following the rules in society may be reinforced, and behavior inconsistent with following the rule may be punished. Such moral imperatives change over time. Sometimes these changes are a mere recloaking of past practices. Sometimes ethical conduct evolves gradually. For example, as more evidence accrues regarding treatment efficacy and safety, ethical standards of professional conduct may gradually shift. As more effective treatments are identified, new information concerning new treatment outcomes is found, such as when long-term follow-up data are reported, new data on long-term harms, and data on new treatments that are superior to old treatments are reported; then the specifics of ethical professional conduct change over time. Sometimes changes in professional and societal ethics are more radical. For example, recent changes in statements on human rights of people with disabilities (United Nations, 2007) and U.S. federal legal decisions establishing the right to life in the community for people with disabilities (Olmstead v. L.C., 1999) have resulted in rapid and dramatic shifts in services away from segregated to integrated services in many countries; prior to Olmsted, a safe, clean, well-run institution was legal and ethical. Today it is not because it violates the person’s constitutional right to live in the community.