In Brief

In a vote as close as any cast in recent memory, APA's Council of Representatives passed a resolution on assisted suicide that--while not spelling out an association position either for or against--states that psychologists should play active roles in the issues raised by hastened-death requests.

The resolution states that APA and psychologists should promote policies that:

  • Reduce suffering that may lead to patients wishing to end their lives.

  • Support research on the antecedents of such requests.

  • Promote psychologists' participation on multidisciplinary teams that address assisted suicide issues.

The resolution also encourages psychologists to obtain training in the area of ethics as it applies to end-of-life decisions and care.

The close vote on the resolution (75 yea, 64 nay) and the long debate that preceded it demonstrated members' division between two positions. One side asserted that if APA were to pass a resolution that did not endorse or condemn assisted suicide, that it was in fact condoning the practice--a position some Council Members said they could not take on moral grounds. The other side argued that many families are already dealing with hastened-death requests and that psychologists should be part of a team of health providers who lend guidance at such times.

Council Members who supported the resolution said the association had a responsibility to be visual and vocal on the issue.

"For psychology not to be heard on this issue where psychologists should be providing guidance and support would really be a shame," said Sandra Haber, PhD, a Div. 42 (Independent Practice) representative to the Council.

In related action, the Council passed a resolution that encourages psychologists to take active roles in both clinical practice and research involving end-of-life issues and in providing competent, culturally sensitive care to the dying and their families. In addition, the Council allocated funds to form a task group to determine how psychologists should become more knowledgeable and involved in end-of-life issues.

More action

In other action, the Council of Representatives:

  • Discussed psychologists' licensure issues. Unlike degrees in every other discipline, the psychology doctoral degree does not qualify an individual for licensure or to practice in the field--graduates must first complete a postdoctoral internship. APA's Commission on Education and Training Leading to Licensure in Psychology has been studying this issue and presented its report to the Council. Members then dispersed into discussion groups to consider the commission's findings. Although Council members agreed that psychology education and training as they pertain to licensure need fixing, there was no consensus on the best way to fix them. The committee's report is now being circulated among APA's governance groups.

  • Debated the scope of APA's ethics adjudication process. APA's Board of Trustees has discussed the possibility of limiting APA's ethics adjudication to expellable behaviors--such as insurance fraud and sexual misconduct--and to earmark more resources for educating psychologists about ethics. Although Council members embraced the idea of more education, many voiced concern that the association has an obligation to protect the public from unscrupulous psychologists through a range of sanctions covering less serious as well as egregious ethics violations. "Education is good, but it will have no impact on impaired, greedy, predatory psychologists or clueless and incompetent psychologists," said APA Treasurer Gerald P. Koocher, PhD.

  • Discussed possible changes to APA's 2002 Annual Convention in Chicago. In an effort to attract more members to the meeting, APA's Board of Convention Affairs is recommending several changes. They include reducing the meeting from five to four days; housing the convention under one roof so that members will not be required to travel so far from session to session; and organizing a number of thematic "track" programs that feature distinguished speakers, cutting-edge topics and minimal competition with divisional programs. Less than 6 percent of members attend the convention each year.

  • Passed a resolution on racial profiling and other law enforcement activities. The resolution calls for APA to advocate for and encourage research to investigate the role of racial bias and stereotyping in law enforcement activities and to promote programs that increase awareness of racial profiling.

  • Granted permanent status to two APA Divisions: Div. 53 (Clinical Child Psychology) and Div. 54 (Society of Pediatric Psychology).

  • Received a report on the process to revise APA's Ethics Code. Members of the Ethics Code Task Force reported on the revision process and echoed their call for comments on the draft, which was published in the February Monitor.

  • Approved expanding APA's mission statement to include "health." Members must now consider whether to approve this addition as an amendment to APA's bylaws. Ballots were mailed to members on April 2. If approved, the mission statement of APA would read: "The objects of the American Psychological Association shall be to advance psychology as a science and profession and as a means of promoting health and human welfare by the encouragement of psychology in all its branches in the broadest and most liberal manner; by the promotion of research in psychology and the improvement of research methods and conditions; by the improvement of the qualifications and usefulness of psychologists through high standards of ethics, conduct, education and achievement; by the establishment and maintenance of the highest standards of professional ethics and conduct of the members of the Association; by the increase and diffusion of psychological knowledge through meetings, professional contacts, reports, papers, discussions, and publications; thereby to advance scientific interests and inquiry, and the application of research findings to the promotion of health and the public welfare."

  • Approved the establishment of an APA Task Force on Workplace Violence. APA's Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest urges members who'd like to participate on the task force to send their name, statement of interest and qualifications, and vitae by April 30 to Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, PhD, (202) 336-6117 (fax), or mail.

Further Reading

A complete report of the Council meeting, including background on all items, appears on APA's website.