APA Council of Representatives Directs Change in its Ethics Code to Prevent So-Called Nuremberg Defense

The APA Ethics Committee has said that no defense for torture will ever be acceptable within the APA ethics adjudication process.

TORONTO—In response to concerns about a possible "following orders" or "following the law" defense to violations of human rights based on the current language of its Ethics Code, the APA Council of Representatives voted Wednesday to direct the APA Ethics Committee to propose language by a time certain this fall that will "appropriately and effectively" amend Ethical Standard 1.02. After a public comment period, the Council is expected to act on the proposed revision to Ethical Standard 1.02 at its February 2010 meeting.

The American Psychological Association has longstanding policy against any involvement by psychologists in acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. A 2007 Council resolution reaffirmed that "there are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether induced by a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, that may be invoked as a justification for torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including the invocation of laws, regulations, or orders." That policy was further expanded in the fall of 2008 based on a referendum adopted by the membership stating that psychologists may not work in settings where "persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights" or providing treatment to military personnel.

Furthermore, the APA Ethics Committee has said that no defense for torture will ever be acceptable within the APA ethics adjudication process.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare