Ethics Committee: The New Code of Ethics
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The NEW Code of Ethics

After two days of discussion, debate, and passionate energy; the 2009 House of Delegates in Baltimore, Maryland passed RC4-09 the new “Code of Ethics”, setting updated ethical standards for our profession.

Why do we hold our Code of Ethics so dear that we value it as one of our “Core Documents?” Simply stated, a Code of Ethics is a set of rules encompassing values and standards of conduct to which practitioners of a profession are expected to conform.1 While all ethical codes differ in structure and emphasis, the commonality is a set of principles designed to help guide decision making and behavior. Individuals to whom codes apply are presumed to possess integrity, which enhances credibility.2

In 1936, a pioneer group of women met in New York City and scribed the first code of ethics for our profession. While the code has been modified and adapted over the years, it has largely remained the same document that was adopted over seven decades ago. In that same period the profession of physical therapy has grown by leaps and bounds - having created rigorous educational standards that have moved the profession to a doctoral level, holding therapists accountable to best practice patterns and evidence based techniques, and achieving direct access so that we may continue to strive toward unfettered autonomy. To keep up with the times the APTA has responded by creating updated “core documents” such as the “Guide for Professional Conduct” and the “Professionalism in Physical Therapy: Core Values.” Five years ago the APTA Ethics and Judicial Committee identified that our existing Code was not sufficient in providing the practitioner of today enough in-depth ethical guidance, nor was it in line with the strategic plan of “Vision 2020.”

This is where the mission to bridge the gap from our previous code to our updated code began. With the thought that the original code was not adequate, the Ethics and Judicial Committee recommended to the APTA Board of Directors that a task force be set up to revamp the code. The task force was established and funded to begin their extensive work. They first identified limitations in the code and surveyed APTA members regarding the code. The group then compiled the information they had received and made recommendations to the Board of Directors which ultimately led to the drafting of the new Code of Ethics which was presented to the House of Delegates in 2009.

The House of Delegates, held annually each spring, is the highest policy-making body of the Association. According to APTA bylaws, the House of Delegates has “all legislative and elective powers and authority to determine policies of the Association, including the power to adopt ethical principles and standards to govern the conduct of members of the Association in their roles as physical therapists or physical therapist assistants.” After two days of discussion, debate, and passionate energy; the 2009 House of Delegates in Baltimore, Maryland passed RC4-09 the new “Code of Ethics”, setting updated ethical standards for our profession.

The revised code and standards is intended to provide greater clarification of existing ethical obligations to practicing therapists. Major changes in the code include:

• incorporating and linking the core values to the code,
• providing specific principles in addition to guiding principles,
• focusing on the therapist/patient relationship within practice settings in a larger society, and
• identifying and addressing the realities of advocacy, organizational behaviors, and business practices.

The “Code of Ethics” lays the foundation of which physical therapists should ascribe to in their daily practice. The document is property of our governing body, but its principles guide us all. It inherently assists us in making better decisions, and provides a framework to lead us into the future.3 Recently a member asked “what do you think the original writers of the code would think about all these changes to their work.” Most likely they would think “what took you so long!” Our new code is set to go into effect July 1, 2010. For more information on APTA bylaws, the House of Delegates, Vision 2020, Core Documents or the new Code of Ethics visit


1. Mosby's Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. © 2009, Elsevier.
2. DiNorcia V, Tigner J. Mixed motives and ethical decisions in business. Journal of Business Ethics . 2001;25(1):1-13.
3. Kirsch N. Bringing us up to Code. PT in Motion. October 2009.

posted May 24, 2010

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