Would you expect a graphic designer to have an understanding of what professional ethics requires of them? What about a photographer? A naturopath? A massage therapist?

The deeper and more general question behind these specific ones is whether university-educated practitioners within such ‘new‘ professions should be expected both to understand and to practise the relevant professional ethics.

Let‘s take a few steps back. The historical development of professions has been characterised by the development of more formal technical training for practitioners, resulting in the introduction of a range of new disciplines into universities. As part of the same process, we have frequently seen more formal articulation of professional ethics coming from within newly professionalised areas of practice. A question therefore arises about whether the technical excellence that university curriculums aim to develop is properly matched by an adequate grounding for practitioners-to-be (i.e. students) to meet the ethical aspirations of their profession.

As befits an institution which strives for excellence in education for the professions, Charles Sturt University has been asking such questions about its professional courses. Thus, I am currently involved in the development of two new undergraduate subjects: Legal and Ethical Issues in Complementary Medicine and Ethics and Law for Creative Industries.

Legal and Ethical Issues in Complementary Medicine was offered in distance mode for the first time in Semester 2 2011, and was very well received by students in the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Complementary Medicine). These students already hold a qualification in their specific modality (naturopathy, massage therapy, acupuncture, and so on), have usually practised for some time, and are seeking continuing professional development. They found the subject ‘thought provoking and at times, challenging‘, ‘timely and topically relevant‘, ‘very beneficial to [my] understanding of ethics in practice‘, and best of all, ‘enjoyable‘ and even ‘fun‘. The ethics section of the syllabus incorporated a week on each of the four principles of health ethics, with readings and questions designed to encourage students to share and reflect upon their experiences. The question has been raised in the complementary medicine ethics literature whether such principles are equally relevant to complementary medicine as they are to conventional medicine (Stone, 2005, pp.95-96). My own view, bolstered by my experience with the students, is that they certainly are. A further week contrasted the advantages and disadvantages of three major ethical theories (deontology, consequentialism, and virtue ethics) and students reflected on the influence of each theory in their own ethical decision-making processes. Finally, during the week linking the ethics to the law part of the subject, students wrestled with the broader question of ethical policy-making: how should complementary medicine be regulated, and why? (AHMAC, 2011)

Ethics and Law for Creative Industries is currently under development, for offer in both internal and distance mode for the first time in semester 2 of 2012. It will be taken by undergraduate students in acting, animation and visual effects, design for theatre and television, television production, media communication, photography, graphic design, jewellery, and fashion design and technology. Many of these students have limited industry experience, so much will turn on the quality and practice-relevance of the scenarios and case studies we are able to provide them. I will report on the results of these endeavours here in due course!

My explorations to date suggest that there are still many gaps in the ethics literature in both of these professional/disciplinary areas (complementary medicine and creative industries), so I‘d be delighted to hear from anyone else working in these areas who might be interested in future research collaboration.

Dr Emma Rush

Lecturer in Philosophy and Ethics

Charles Sturt University


Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (AHMAC), 2011 (February). Consultation paper: Options for regulation of unregistered health practitioners. Available from: http://www.ahmac.gov.au/site/home.aspx (accessed 2 December, 2011).

Stone, J. 2005. Ethics in complementary and alternative medicine, pp.83-110 in Heller, T. (ed.) Perspectives on complementary and alternative medicine. Routledge: United Kingdom.