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Ethical Issues in Medical Social Work

Code of Ethics and Medical Social Work

Ethical standards are integral to the work of all social professionals. The reason for the existence of ethical standards as a system is the need for a unique guide to help navigate controversial situations (Cole, 2012). In addition, the presence of such a framework makes it possible to prosecute those professionals who do not comply with the required standards (Strom-Gottfried, 2019). That is why it is essential to transfer a similar system to specialists in medical social work.

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From the perspective of the developed system of standards, Commitment to Clients seems to me the most important. This fundamental standard exists since the most crucial task of social workers is to respect the client’s interests and ensure their well-being (National Association of Social Workers, 2021). I chose this standard since its strategy fits very well with the medical perspective, as healthcare professionals also prioritize the patient’s health. However, an important note is made, according to which the client’s interests can be placed below specific requirements, social or legal. This exemption allows for compliance with more important ethical codes in different situations. For example, a health care social worker may face the consequences of abuse of a client’s child that must be reported legally, even though it may go against the interests of the original client (National Association of Social Workers, 2021). In this case, reporting a violation of the law is more ethically correct than maintaining silence following the client’s need.

The second fundamental principle, which should also apply to medical social workers, is Competence. In the ethical code, professionals should only provide services in areas where appropriate training has been completed (National Association of Social Workers, 2021). In addition, in the case of using specific technologies to assist, one must first consult the region’s legislation. I consider this standard extremely important because of the need for transparent distribution of roles in medicine and the social sphere. Applying this standard to medical practice can be carried out in the framework of the failure to aid in an area in which the employee is not competent. For example, a client may ask a social worker to provide them with consulting services in ophthalmology. However, if a person does not have the appropriate knowledge, and their specialization is, for example, cardiovascular diseases, then they are not entitled to provide such services.

Finally, the last crucial principle, which ties in with the previous ones, is Referral for Services. In cases where a specialist cannot assist independently, they must transfer clients to another worker who can provide the assistance they need (National Association of Social Workers, 2021). This principle works in tandem with the previous one, which sets the competence framework for professionals. It is important to me since clients should receive help in any case, even if the particular worker cannot provide it. An example of this behavior is a continuation of the previous example. If a medical social worker is asked for services beyond their Competence, they should not simply refuse the client but connect them with those who can provide the required medical assistance.

Ethical Dilemmas

The scenario under consideration closely links the medical and social aspects of the issue since the case concerns a severe infectious disease. The dilemma lies in avoiding negative social consequences, withholding the client’s parents’ information that is important for life, and the possible consequences of such behavior. From a medical perspective, the intimate relationship of a person with HIV-positive status can lead to a partner’s infection. In the absence of knowledge, this behavior will contribute to the further spread of this disease. In addition, there is deliberate concealment of medical information by the parents from the child, which is morally wrong and does not allow his treatment.

Several ethical standards fall under this situation and must be considered. In general, the medical social worker must respect the confidentiality of the client’s personal data, including his medical indicators (National Association of Social Workers, 2021). From this perspective, the specialist should not give the boy information about his status. This issue must be resolved within the family, and interfering with the established family relationship will be unethical. On the other hand, however, the health care social worker must provide the client with access to their records and be concerned about their welfare (National Association of Social Workers, 2021). Non-disclosure of this information can lead to a potential deterioration in the client’s quality of life. Finally, it should be taken into account that the specificity of HIV status leaves the possibility of spreading the disease to other people, which contradicts workers’ ethical obligations to the broader society.

From my perspective, the medical social worker needs to fulfill the following two responsibilities towards their client. First, it is necessary to ensure maximum comfort and well-being of the client following the first directive of the code – Commitment to Clients (National Association of Social Workers, 2021). The social worker should not take hasty actions that could harm the client psychologically. HIV status is a purely personal matter, and a person must decide for themself who will know about it. In this context, the parents themselves have to talk to the child. The best that the social worker can do is consult with both the parents and the child, facilitating contact. This may require special qualifications, both from a social and medical point of view. Therefore, the specialist may need the help of other people following the ethical standard of competence. However, they cannot resort to such measures independently, so the need to talk with the child should also be discussed with the parents, observing all possible confidentiality measures.

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Cole, P. L. (2012). You want me to do what? Ethical practice within interdisciplinary collaborations. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 9(1), 26-39.

National Association of Social Workers. (2021). Code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Web.

Strom-Gottfried, K. (2019). Ethics in health care. In S. Gehlert & T. Browne (Eds.). Handbook of health social work (3rd ed., pp. 40-67). Wiley. Web.

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