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Why I Resigned from the
American Psychological Association
The following letter was sent to APA President Alan Kazdin via FedEx on February 6, 2008, and to members of the APA Council of Representatives via the Council listserv Thursday morning, February 7:
Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D.
American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242
With sadness I write to resign from the American Psychological Association.
My respect and affection for the members, along with my 29 year history
with APA, make this a hard and reluctant step. Chairing the Ethics Committee,
holding fellow status in 9 divisions, and receiving the APA Award for Distinguished
Contributions to Public Service, the Division 12 Award for Distinguished
Professional Contributions to Clinical Psychology, and the Division 42
Award for Mentoring reflect a
few chapters in my APA history.
I respectfully disagree with decisive changes that APA has made in its ethical stance during the past 6+ years. These changes moved APA far from its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values, and beyond what I can in good conscience support with my membership.
I would like to note two examples of disagreement. First, the years since 9-11 brought concern over psychologists' work that affects detainees. APA has stressed psychologists' "vital role" regarding "the use of ethical interrogations to safeguard the welfare of detainees" and ways that psychologists "help advance the cause of detainee welfare and humane treatment." Yet in its ethics code, APA chose not to recognize any humane treatment requirements governing psychologists' work with detainees as enforceable standards.
Historically, when concerns arose about the impact of psychologists' behavior on groups at risk, APA moved decisively to create specific requirements and limitations in the ethics code's enforceable standards. These groups included persons "for whom testing is mandated by law or governmental regulations," "persons with a questionable capacity to consent," research participants, "subordinates," clients, students, supervisees, and employees. Facing concerns about the impact of psychologists' behavior on research animals, for example, APA created an enforceable standard supporting the "humane treatment" of laboratory animals. But for detainees, APA chose not to adopt any enforceable standards in the ethics code mandating humane treatment.
The code's numbered ethical standards "set forth enforceable rules of conduct." The code emphasizes that although other code sections should be given consideration, even the code's "Preamble and General Principles are not themselves enforceable rules..." APA's decision to adopt an enforceable standard regarding "humane treatment" of animals but not to adopt an enforceable standard regarding "humane treatment" of detainees turns APA away from its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values that should endure even in the midst of post-9-11 risks and realities.
My second area of disagreement concerns the ethics code that Council adopted August 21, 2002 (which took effect June 1, 2003). The 2002 code echoes the earlier code in setting forth the following enforceable standard: "If psychologists' ethical responsibilities conflict with law, regulations, or other governing legal authority, psychologists make known their commitment to the Ethics Code and take steps to resolve the conflict." But the 2002 code created a new enforceable standard: "If the conflict is unresolvable via such means, psychologists may adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal authority" (Standard 1.02).
This new enforceable standard, in my opinion, contradicts one of the essential ethical values voiced in the Nuremberg trials. Even in light of the post-9-11 historical context and challenges, I believe we can never abandon the fundamental ethical value affirmed at Nuremberg.
An attempt to modify Standard 1.02 was placed only in the nonenforceable section. In the 5 years since creating this new enforceable ethical standard in a sharp break with the past, APA chose to make no qualifications, restrictions, or other modifications to Standard 1.02 in the code's enforceable section.
The code's 89 enforceable standards identify diverse ethical responsibilities, some representing the profession's deepest values. The code recognizes that these ethical values can stand in stark, irreconcilable conflict (no matter what steps the psychologist takes to resolve the conflict) with a regulation, a law, or governing legal authority. APA's creation of an enforceable standard allowing psychologists to violate these fundamental ethical responsibilities in favor of following a regulation, a law, or a governing legal authority clashes with its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values.
Such changes in APA's approach to its enforceable ethical standards over
the past 6+ years embrace issues of enormous complexity and conflicting
values. I've tried during these years to read as widely and carefully as
possible in these diverse areas, comparing secondary sources to primary
sources and evaluating claims in light of evidence. On one narrow topic,
for example, I've read and maintained an archive of citations of over 220
published works (including those from APA) that specifically address the
controversy over physicians and psychologists participating in the planning
and implementation of detainee interrogations. (The archive is at :
Over the decades I've written articles and books examining APA's earliest
discussions about ethical responsibilities and accountability, the choice
to create an ethics code, the innovative methods used to create a unique
code, the revisions and controversies over the years, and APA members'
ethical views, dilemmas, and behavior. During the code's distinguished
history, it has set forth APA's essential ethics and the standards to which
members agree to hold themselves accountable through the Ethics Committee's
formal enforcement. For me, the two examples above represent defining issues
for APA. Steps that APA has taken or avoided since 9-11 mark a sharp shift
in values and direction.
I respectfully disagree with these changes; I am skeptical that they will work as intended; and I believe that they may lead to far-reaching unintended consequences.
These changes take APA so far away from its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values, and from my own personal and professional view of our responsibilities, that I cannot support them with my membership. In light of my respectful disagreement with APA about these fundamental changes, it is with great sadness and regret that I resign my membership.
Kenneth S. Pope, Ph.D., ABPP