Shining light on good practice. © 2008 MCA/KOD
Perspectives on Ethics
Member care is a broad field with a wide range of practitioners. As this field continues to grow, it is important to offer guidelines to further clarify and shape good practice. Any guidelines must carefully consider the fact of the field’s international diversity, and blend together the best interests of both service receivers and service providers. They also need to be applicable to member care workers (MCWs) with different types of training and experience. This is a challenging task to undertake, and it is one that must be done in consultation with many others and on an ongoing basis. Trying to differentiate between codes, guidelines, frameworks, and suggestions is just one important aspect of this challenging task.
However, the primary focus of this stone is not just mission/aid staff. It is rather on the ethical responsibility—ethical imperative—for personal and group duty (often sacrificial duty) on behalf of humanity. It is about the duty and choice to risk one’s own rights and well-being in order to extend member care, broadly speaking, to vulnerable populations. More specifically, it is a principled commitment to improve the quality of life and seek justice for those whose human rights, including religious liberties and freedom of conscience as well as physical safety and economic livelihood, are habitually threatened through neglect, disasters, poverty, discrimination, fear, and persecution.
Workers who serve in cross-cultural settings are often subject to a variety of extreme stressors. Natural disasters, wars, sudden relocation, imprisonment, sickness, and protracted relationship conflicts are but a few of the examples. The general consensus seems to be that sending groups that deploy their people into potentially adverse situations have an ethical responsibility to do all they can to prepare and support them. This thinking is in line with Principle 7 from the People in Aid Code of Good Practice (2003) which states, "The security, good health and safety of our staff are a prime responsibility of our organization." There are so many locations where the social/political situation is very unstable, where there is the possibility of death or serious physical/emotional injury in the course of helping others, and/or more isolated places where there are few supportive member care resources available. The very places that are the neediest are also often the riskiest.
Risk can also be understood as being part of one’s job description, and continuous with the reality that there are always risks in life regardless of one’s location or job. But to what extent should mission/aid workers take risks? Does one help victims of car accidents without having protective barriers that can prevent the transmission of HIV through the victims’ blood? Does one obey an organizational requirement to evacuate from a war zone knowing that there may be far more dire consequences to the nationals/locals that remain without the protective presence of international peacekeepers and providers? How much information about risk does one need to know in advance of an assignment?