Statement of the Board of Ethics on ASHA's Code of Ethics and Principles Associated With Its Enforcement
Purpose of ASHA's Ethical Code
The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) has been committed to a framework of common principles and standards of practice since ASHA's inception in 1925. This commitment was formalized in 1952 in a separate document that was the Association's first formal Code of Ethics. This Code has been modified and adapted as society and the professions have changed. However, the Code has been maintained as an inspirational document that defines what we aspire to do in our scientific and clinical practice. The Code does not contain solutions to specific situations or problems but is designed to provide guidance to members and certified individuals as they make professional decisions. The Code of Ethics reflects what we value as professionals and establishes expectations based on principals of duty, fairness, and responsibility. The ASHA Code of Ethics is intended to ensure the welfare of the consumer and to protect the reputation and integrity of the professions.
Commitment to Enforcing the ASHA Code of Ethics
In part, the ASHA Code of Ethics was established to inspire members to achieve and maintain the highest level of competence and to behave in ways that would maintain the highest standards of integrity and ethical principles (ASHA, 2010). This inspirational behavior is not intended to be discretionary, but is expected of all members and certificate holders. ASHA is committed to the enforcement of its Code of Ethics. Self-regulation is important in order to build trust and respect for the professions, and enforcing the Code provides additional incentive for individuals to choose to do the right thing.
ASHA's Board of Ethics and Its Role
ASHA has established the Board of Ethics and charged it with the responsibility for maintaining and administering the Code of Ethics and with educating individuals regarding its significance (ASHA, 2008). However, individuals need to understand that there are restrictions on the ability of the Board of Ethics to enforce the Code of Ethics.
For example, the jurisdiction of the Board of Ethics is limited (ASHA, 2012). The board can only adjudicate complaints that are brought against two classes of individuals, ASHA members and/or certificate holders. "Members" include those who hold current ASHA membership, are applicants for membership, and Clinical Fellows who have voluntarily made application to be "members in the certification process" during their Clinical Fellowship. Although the jurisdiction for enforcement of the Code of Ethics is limited to ASHA members and/or certificate holders, the Board of Ethics accepts complaints for adjudication from a variety of individuals who are not members including consumers, employers, and students.
Additionally, the Board of Ethics does not actively initiate investigations, as the Association does not have the investigative powers that entities such as state licensure boards do. For example, ASHA does not have subpoena power and cannot force witnesses to testify or produce evidentiary documents. This type of intrusive approach would also change the relationship that ASHA has with its members from helpful and supportive to adversarial.
However, each member or certificate holder has a personal responsibility in the enforcement of the Code of Ethics by monitoring his/her own actions and those of others. This responsibility is included and defined as a rule within the Code of Ethics (ASHA, 2010). Thus, members and certificate holders assist the Board of Ethics in enforcement of the Code by filing a formal complaint when they have information and evidence of their belief that a violation of the Code of Ethics has occurred.
Filing a Complaint
The Board of Ethics is a semi-autonomous, impartial adjudicative body within the Association that has been charged with administering and enforcing the Code of Ethics (ASHA, 2008). ASHA has established a complaint process that is easy to understand and is clearly outlined in the Board's document titled Practices and Procedures of the Board of Ethics (ASHA, 2012). This information is easily accessible to individuals via the ASHA website or by contacting the ASHA National Office for assistance. Although the process for filing or responding to a complaint is not onerous, individual guidance is available to those requesting it through ASHA's Ethics program and/or the director of ethics.
The process for adjudication of complaints has been designed to ensure fairness and to allow for due process. Individuals accused of violating the Code of Ethics (respondents) are provided the opportunity to respond to the allegations against them and to seek further review of, and appeal, adverse decisions. This right to due process is an important reason that the Board of Ethics will not accept anonymous complaints or agree to keep confidential and not disclose the identity of the individual filing the complaint (complainant) to the person complained against. The complainant may be biased and the respondent needs to know the identity of the complainant in order to present and support a claim of bias. Additionally, it is less likely that frivolous or malicious complaints will be filed if the complainant is known. Finally it is much easier for the Board of Ethics to determine the veracity and credibility of evidence submitted if the source of that evidence is known (ASHA, 2009).
Adjudication and Findings
The Board of Ethics will only consider the evidence provided by complainants and respondents to reach its decision. No information about the complaint is provided to any individuals, organizations, or agencies while it is being adjudicated. If the Board of Ethics determines that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that a Code violation occurred, the respondent and the complainant will be notified of the board's determination as a Final Decision, and the matter will be considered closed. If the individual is found to be in violation, the Board of Ethics will specify which Rules of Ethics were violated and determine a sanction.
Sanctions and Disclosure
The sanction imposed by the Board of Ethics may be private or public. While public sanctions may be controversial, they do provide a significant penalty for the breach of ethical behavior and may serve as a way to educate all members and perhaps rehabilitate the individual in violation. Sanctions also demonstrate to other ASHA members that the Code of Ethics is important and the Association is willing to enforce its standards. Sanctions include a reprimand (private), censure (a public reprimand), or withholding, suspension, or revocation of membership and/or certification for a period of years, up to life (ASHA, 2012).
The importance of an ethical code for a profession cannot be underestimated. The ASHA Code of Ethics serves as a framework and focused guide for professionals in support of day-to-day decision making regarding professional conduct. The Code of Ethics also serves to clarify the Association's mission, values, and principles. With the active participation of members and certificate holders, the Board of Ethics works to enforce ASHA's Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics and its enforcement results in respect for the professions and positive outcomes for individuals who benefit from the work of speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and speech, language and hearing scientists.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2008). Bylaws of the American Speech-Language Association [Bylaws]. Available from http://www.asha.org/policy.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2010). Code of Ethics [Ethics]. Available from http://www.asha.org/policy.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2012). Practices and Procedures of the Board of Ethics [Ethics]. Available from http://www.asha.org/policy.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2009). Why ASHA Does Not Accept Anonymous Ethics Complaints [From the Director of Ethics]. Available from http://www.asha.org/practice/ethics/anonymous.htm.