Professional Ethics and Values in Pregnancy Counseling

Michael Hill

Associate Director Michael Hill,

As the New York State Project Lead for the Federally-funded Infant Adoption Awareness Training Project (IAATP), I’ve learned a lot about some of the important considerations that need to be made when healthcare and helping professionals are providing pregnancy options counseling services.

First and foremost, in order to ensure practitioners are providing services in an ethical fashion, they need to be keenly aware of their professional responsibilities. They need to present all of the options that are available to the client, and they need to do so without allowing their personal values, opinions or biases to “get in the way.” As it says so eloquently in the IAATP’s Participant Handbook, “because the health professional’s own values with be challenged in this work, it is especially important to be grounded in a set of accepted professional standards of conduct or ethics that support him/her to be unbiased and objective.” The IAATP Participant Handbook goes on to identify three important “ethical values” that are the basis for sound option counseling work; they are:

The Value of Self-Determination – This value respects a person’s autonomy and capacity to shape his/her own life. This is based on the belief that better outcomes will result when a person’s self-determination is respected, as well as the different views of self-determination among ethnic, cultural and religious groups.

The Value of Equity – The value of equity means being treated equally or fairly. The principle of equity also implies that it is unjust to treat people the same who are different. Do all persons in different socio-economic and cultural groups have equal access to needed adoption information and services? Are all persons offered information on an equal basis with other options in unintended pregnancy situations?

The Value of Well-Being – This value assumes that any clinical intervention is to improve the client’s health and well-being. However, to determine what constitutes health or well-being for a client one must consider the client’s subjective preferences. It is the health care practitioner’s role to understand the patient/client’s needs and present reasonable alternatives to the patient/client and/or surrogate decision-makers in a way that enables patients/clients and/or their surrogate decision-makers to choose those they prefer.

Simply put, regardless of whether a patient/client chooses to carry the child to term and parent, carry the child to term and make an adoption plan, or terminate the pregnancy, the patient/client needs to be empowered to make the decision that feels right for them, as the choice they make is forever a part of their personal story and has lifelong implications.

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