Ethical principles form the foundation of ethical conduct and provide guidance along the pathway to ethical decision-making. While there are several approaches to ethical principles, this document uses the classical ethical principles described below as a basic guide to ethical conduct. Emphasis is on the pursuit of excellence in all professional activities, as well as the ability to act with integrity, accountability and good judgment in the best interests of the client, the public, the individual (self), and the profession.
- Respect for Autonomy states that people should be allowed to make decisions that apply to their lives and to have control over their lives as much as possible. Autonomy requires a physiotherapist to respect a client’s freedom to decide for themselves and includes obtaining informed consent.
- Beneficence guides the practitioner to do what is good with respect to the welfare of the client. In physiotherapy practice, the physiotherapist should provide benefit to the client’s health.
- Least Harm deals with situations in which none of the choices available are judged to be the best. In this case, a practitioner should choose to do the least harm possible and to do harm to the fewest people. For physiotherapists, this may mean recommending an intervention that is the best of two alternatives even though both alternatives may have negative side effects.
- Justice requires that the actions chosen are objective and equitable to those involved. An ethical decision that relates to justice has a consistent logical basis that supports the decision. For physiotherapists, justice relates to treating people fairly and to allocating resources fairly between clients.
In addition to the ethical principles, there are several professional values that help to support ethical conduct in the profession - these are the values that underpin and motivate a member of the physiotherapy profession’s efforts every day and inspire all of their actions. The key values include responsibility, excellence, trustworthiness, honesty, integrity, professionalism, citizenship, respect, dignity, communication, collaboration, advocacy, transparency, and well-being.
The ethical responsibilities below are described under three headings: those that apply to the client; those that apply to the public; and those that apply to the individual practitioner (self) and the profession. Ethical responsibilities are intended to serve as a guide to ethical conduct. They will not all apply all of the time nor in all situations, but they should serve as a reference to guide to sound ethical conduct and to help to prevent unethical behaviours and choices.