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Defining Ethics and Morality
by Damon Timm
September 24, 2000

I believe that ethics are an individual's collection of morals, and that someone who is ethical or moral is someone who makes decisions based on what she or he feels is right. The right decision, as seen by him or her, is the one that does the least (or no) harm to the greatest number. Ethics and morality extend to a greater good beyond the scope of human individuals. Moral decisions are not based solely on the good of a person or persons, but to all things big and small. For, you cannot do harm to only a small part without causing harm to the greater whole; any harm one causes inflicts the greatest damage to oneself. An ethical or moral person is one who struggles with her or his decision, trying to decide if her actions will have a negative effect on others. When we make ethically sound decisions everyone and everything is to gain.

Many would agree that all people are ethical to a certain extent; some of us make more ethical decisions than others. But as a whole, we all have a certain innate calling to make morally correct decisions. If this were not true, hurting another person or thing would not cause us to be upset or feel unrest. So, while there are distinct variations among people throughout the world on what would be considered ethical or moral behavior, most of us subscribe to the a similar belief that intentionally causing harm is wrong, and should be avoided. Causing harm to whom or what and under what circumstances varies drastically from person to person. Many people would say that it is unethical for me to kill and eat my horse, but not to kill and eat my cow; others might say opposite and others still would argue that killing either animal is intrinsically wrong, a moral faux pas.

When the phrases "Code of Ethics" or "ethical Interpreter" are mentioned, the first idea that comes to mind is confidentiality. That an Interpreter will not share any of the information acquired in relation to the interpreted situation or assignment with anyone outside of the interpreted interaction. However, after some consideration, one can easily see that the issue of confidentiality is not nearly as black and white (or right and wrong) as it seems. There are two sides to the coin: one, that this ethical rule is to be observed strictly and literally and that the Interpreter "shall keep all assignment-related information strictly confidential." Or two, that it is up to the Interpreter to decide which of the "assignment-related information" could be considered harmful and which is not. For example, would anyone consider an Interpreter unethical who told her husband that she would be interpreting at the John Hancock building all day? Some would argue that that is indeed assignment related information, while others would say that sharing that kind of information is perfectly fine and harmless. But, one cannot make a Procrustean assumption that in all cases it is perfectly fine for a wife to share with her husband where she will be interpreting. For there are certainly interpreting assignments in which sharing that sort of information may be considered unethical (e.g., a well-known controversial local court case or a medical situation). So, the first side of the coin has a very simple, black and white conclusion: if you share any assignment information you have broken the code of ethics. The second side of the coin is much more complex and undefined. I believe that confidentiality is a very serious ethical consideration, but that it is difficult to apply one strict rule to it. The ethical Interpreter must make his or her decision based on the harm or good caused by her or his actions. As a rule, however, while it would be very easy for an Interpreter to say too much, it would be very hard to ever say to little.

As we can see, the confidentiality issue that an ethical Interpreter faces is based considerably of the Interpreters judgment and perception of the situation. The other aspects of an ethical Interpreter are no different and may be even more difficult to find concrete answers for. While confidentiality is what first comes to mind, other aspects of the Interpreters role could be considered even more relevant. That is: how the Interpreter wields his or her power within a given assignment or interaction. Interpreters are given a phenomenal amount of trust, and are constantly faced with decisions more difficult than whether or not to tell one's wife where he will be working. An ethical Interpreter is one who causes the greatest good possible during an interaction; that both parties (hearing and Deaf) may come away from the encounter feeling as empowered as possible under the given circumstances. It is the role of the Interpreter to remain entirely unbiased while making the interaction as balanced and natural as possible.

For myself, accurate and effective communication is an amazing thing; as are ethical actions and empowering behavior. I am intrigued by the role the Interpreter is given, and feel that I can fulfil the role very well. I also appreciate the ability to maintain a flexible schedule that leaves time for other activities and jobs of interest. These reasons, in combination with my perception for the need for qualified Interpreters, are why I would like to become the best, ethical Interpreter I am able to be.

Proper Citation of this Document

Timm, Damon. "Defining Ethics and Morality." American Sign Language Interpreting Resources, 24 September 2000.