Ethics in Health Informatics and Information Technology

Ethics in Health Informatics and Information Technology

Keith Lui
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch293
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By IT, this article means a broad definition of the application and support of information and communications technologies for a variety of organisations and people. We focus on IT since there are no separate ethical theories for the disciplines of information systems, computer engineering, computer science and software engineering (ACM/IEEE Joint Task Force for Computing Curricula 2005, 2006). Since many computing graduates specialise and work in IT, it is also useful to consider ethical practice from this perspective.

Why bother studying ethics in IT? Surely the goal of developing software or hardware is for the end product to meet a client’s requirements and, once met, there are no other considerations and the developer moves on? Such attitudes were common in the early days of computing. As a theoretical science, computer science had no concern for ethics, just as mathematics does not have maths ethics (Reddy, 2004). IT was also influenced by engineering and shared some of the engineer’s attitude: once the product is built, how it is used is the user’s responsibility (Gell, 2001). The computer scientist was little more than a toolsmith (Brooks, 1996). Even in the 21st century, there are still critics of ethics education in the computing sciences (Gotterbarn, 2010). McBride believes that some IT workers of today are attracted to the profession due to the predictability of IT (McBride, 2012). It is this attitude that fosters treating ethics like if-then statements; if they have ticked the ethics box then they can be assured of being ethical without needing to think. The problem, McBride believes, is one of personal responsibility and acceptance of ethical behaviour, cornerstones of ethical practice and a theme of this article.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to visit ethics in computing is the observation that computing can and does harm organisations and individuals. Computing is a social endeavour. Without humans and without human relationships, there is no need for computing. Therefore, the effects of computing can be inadvertent and cause embarrassment, fear, socioeconomic and financial loss, infrastructure damage and mental and physical harm. At the time of this writing, there are 107 software applications available from the Apple App Store and Android Market that encourage tobacco smoking e.g. depicting smoking as socially desirable (Nasser, Freeman, & Trevena, 2012). Daily, people encounter malicious software (viruses, Trojan horses, worms) and email spam. Cyber-bullying and software piracy is occurring right now somewhere. Internet search engines can falsely label someone a criminal, requiring lawsuit remedies (Butt, 2012).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Health Informatics Ethics: The study of what is moral, right and of value in the practice of health informatics.

Computer Ethics: The study of what is moral, right and of value in computing.

Principlism: A bioethical framework that employs autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice to help in ethical decision making.

Biomedical Ethics: The study of what is moral, right and of value in the practice of health care and in biology.

IT Ethics: The study of what is moral, right and of value in the practice of information technology.

Professionalism: The set of skills, knowledge, attitudes that lead to dedication, accountability and self improvement among a group of practitioners.

Deontology: Ethical theories that help us decide what is right and wrong.

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