Our Noble Professions

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

(crossposted from DKos)

I’ve been working on the project Petition for a Special Prosecutor which for me has entailed writing a lot about justice, the intersection of justice and politics and justice and the practice of law.

Of course, due to the excellent work of blogger Valtin, the profession of psychology has also come under scrutiny, as the American Psychological Association did not protest when some of their members validated torture by participating in it at Gitmo and elsewhere.

The profession of law has been soiled by the work of folks like John Yoo, yet he has not been disbarred and I haven’t heard any official protest by the American Bar Association when it comes to lawyers writing legal papers justifying torture.

Ethics.  It is to laugh.

Our noble professions.  Doctor.  Lawyer.  Journalist.  All professions with ethical codes of conduct and a certain level of social privilege conferred upon their practitioners.

Oh, and let’s not forget accountants, shall we?  They have principles to adhere to as well.  I think they didn’t do a good job when it came to oh, say, Enron.  Just to name one example.

Here’s something about the code of conduct for lawyers in New York State (all emphasis mine):

The Code of Professional Responsibility consists of three separate but interrelated parts: Canons, Ethical Considerations, and Disciplinary Rules. The Code is designed to be both an inspirational guide to the members of the profession and a basis for disciplinary action when the conduct of a lawyer falls below the required minimum standards stated in the Disciplinary Rules.

Obviously the Canons, Ethical Considerations, and Disciplinary Rules cannot apply to non-lawyers; however, they do define the type of ethical conduct that the public has a right to expect not only of lawyers but also of their non-professional employees and associates in all matters pertaining to professional employment. A lawyer should ultimately be responsible for the conduct of the lawyer’s employees and associates in the course of the professional representation of the client.

The Canons are statements of axiomatic norms, expressing in general terms the standards of professional conduct expected of lawyers in their relationships with the public, with the legal system, and with the legal profession. They embody the general concepts from which the Ethical Considerations and the Disciplinary Rules are derived.

The Ethical Considerations are aspirational in character and represent the objectives toward which every member of the profession should strive. They constitute a body of principles upon which the lawyer can rely for guidance in many specific situations.

The Disciplinary Rules, unlike the Ethical Considerations, are mandatory in character. The Disciplinary Rules state the minimum level of conduct below which no lawyer can fall without being subject to disciplinary action. The Disciplinary Rules should be uniformly applied to all lawyers, regardless of the nature of their professional activities. The Code makes no attempt to prescribe either disciplinary procedures or penalties for violation of a Disciplinary Rule, nor does it undertake to define standards for civil liability of lawyers for professional conduct. The severity of judgment against one found guilty of violating a Disciplinary Rule should be determined by the character of the offense and the attendant circumstances. An enforcing agency, in applying the Disciplinary Rules, may find interpretive guidance in the basic principles embodied in the Canons and in the objectives reflected in the Ethical Considerations.

No codification of principles can expressly cover all situations that may arise. Accordingly, conduct that does not appear to violate the express terms of any Disciplinary Rule nevertheless may be found by an enforcing agency to be the subject of discipline on the basis of a general principle illustrated by a Disciplinary Rule or on the basis of an accepted common law principle applicable to lawyers.

Of course doctors take the Hippocratic Oath (I am quoting here a more modern version by Louis Lasagna):

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

I don’t think helping determine how much torture a prisoner can take without killing him is covered in that oath, but that’s just me.

I have read lawyers on the blogs try to treat the issue of torture as one where the legal profession’s prerogatives are paramount.  Prosecutorial discretion.  This statute doesn’t cover what you say it did, so that case won’t wash — but never continuing the argument as to which statutes would indeed cover the prosecution of torture.  Not once, I might add.

I have read lawyers or those who fancy themselves legal experts try to parse torture into just any case at all, with the blithe and confident privilege given always to the practice of law, viewing it in a supposed objective fashion and hiding behind the practice of law in order to ignore the enormity of the legal challenge we face when it comes to torture.

With the medical profession, at least I can read Valtin.  I can see that the American Psychological Association at least has some (former) members who are speaking out on the egregious violation of ethical standards that any profession that wishes to be considered a profession has to uphold.

With the legal profession … not so much.  I’m not talking about arguing the legal case against Bush and Cheney for torture.  I’m referring to speaking out against the torture of the law by folks like John Yoo … and lawyers standing up to the ABA and asking why this isn’t a huge issue and why Yoo has not been subject to discipline by the ethical rules of the profession.

Instead I read some legal eagles chastising a blogger because they wrote Yoo ought to be prosecuted and telling the diarist that could never happen under the law, a lawyer can’t be prosecuted for bad advice, never once adding that indeed this is a serious issue for all lawyers and should be dealt with as a profession.

Yes, all our noble professions here in the USA.

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Please sign the petition.  This isn’t something our noble professions will do.  It must come from the citizens of this country, to speak loud to our representatives that we need investigations and a fair trial for those who tortured, and that there is no legal, moral or political justification to do otherwise.


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  1. … but this has been on my mind lately.


  3. Unfortunately, I think the Code of Ethics, etc. of all of those professions has been slipping little by little for quite a long time now, particularly, with lawyers.  Any attorney, with a modicum of understanding of the national and international laws, knew/knows that torture is illegal period.  But just as BushCo “urged” those in government to help “build” the facts around the policies in the build-up to an attack on Iraq, so, too, was Yoo asked to give a legal opinion that would “clear” those authorizing “enhanced interrogation techniques” of any wrong-doing. Of course, had Yoo not come up with such a legal memorandum, he would have been fired — but that is where the Code of Ethics and one’s own sense of morality would play.  

    Moreover, it seems that instead of feeling an obligation to the Code of Ethics which each in each profession is deigned to take, they, nowadays, seem to have a loftier than thou attitude, as well, as though they are above all reproach.

    Everything is pretty whacked up everywhere in that sense!  And it’s all money at the bottom.  A white criminal thug escapes going to jail because he has the money to pay a good attorney who can get him off — while, a kid found with a joint goes to jail because he can’t afford an attorney.

    And so it goes with the professions these days — not much to respect or trust, generally.

    Thanks for these thoughts — seldom reviewed!


  4. .. in that oath, but that’s just me.”


    Seriously, good Diary. And good work on the special prosecutor petition. These things can seem like thankless work when you can’t get millions to sign for what ought to be a slam-dunk, but such fights are an uphill grind.  

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