Ethics Issues in Physical Therapy – Medical Ethics Example

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"Ethics Issues in Physical Therapy" is an inspiring example of a paper on medical ethics. It is  an  important  aspect of professionalism  to  identify and evaluate ethical considerations.   Physical therapists have been facing many ethical issues in their profession for some years since they started practicing autonomy in decision making and patient care.   This  argumentative-synthesis  paper intends to discuss this thesis statement and the ethical considerations attached to it.     The increase in the autonomy of physical therapists has  raised  the need for them to discuss ethical questions that arise during their practice.   Triezenberg  (1996, p. 1098)  asserts that  since physical therapists are increasingly been assigned for supervision of support personnel,   that includes assistants and other health care professionals, hence this supervisory role has raised “ additional questions of authority, professional autonomy, responsibility,   and  quality  of care” (p. 1098).   Other duties of physical therapists like business arrangements also raise ethical concerns like “ utilization of services, and equity in billing” (p1098).   Every change that occurs in practice requires ethical considerations  and these recent changes have also raised many of them.   One important ethical issue  is  decision-making.   Ethical decision-making in physical therapy is a new topic of debate since previously it was only an issue of etiquette.   Ethics in decision-making has also been discussed in the APTA’ s Code of Ethics of 1935  which emphasized the therapists’ role in making ethical decisions according to ethical principles.   Ethical decision-making includes, for example, prioritizing patient care when time is limited and resources are inadequate; taking informed consent from patients and empowering them in the decision-making process; and, continuing treating a  patient  suffering from a terminal illness, says  Guccione  (1980).   Barnitt  (1998) compared ethical dilemmas faced in physical therapy to those in occupational therapy and found that physical therapists face the same number of ethical  dilemmas while making decisions as occupational therapists, only the context of these ethical  decisions  is different.     Ethics in physical therapy also involve charging the patients fairly and deciding which services should be given to the patient, since there are a lot of services like light, heat, magnetic field, sound waves, and exercises, not all of which are appropriate for every patient.   Patients’ rights must be respected and they should be treated with dignity.

All laws and regulations concerning the profession must be complied with. The therapists must hold themselves responsible for their treatment outcomes. They must use sound judgment. They should not compromise on their beliefs and standards.

They must receive their due wages. They must well inform the patient before starting the treatment process. They must prohibit all illegal acts during the provision of services. Finally, they must present their efforts to the improvement of the general public’ s health. All  these  ethical considerations have been mentioned in  APTA’ s  Code of Ethics.   However, according to Swisher (2002, p. 692), “ further research is needed to address the unique ethical problems” that  mainly  concern  patients’ perspectives,   moral judgment,   and cultural dimensions.     Summing it up, it is concluded that physical therapists do face many ethical considerations in their field while making decisions and dealing with patients.

They cannot be spared from their ethical responsibilities, and the changing trends in the practice of physical therapy have increased the demand for the identification and discussion of ethics.    


Barnitt, R. (1998). Ethical dilemmas in occupational therapy and physical therapy: a survey of practitioners in the UK National Health Service. J Med Ethics, 24(3), pp. 193-199.

Guccione, A.A. (1980). Ethical issues in physical therapy practice: a survey of physical therapists in New England. Phys Ther., 60, p.1264-1272.

Swisher, L.L. (2002). A retrospective analysis of ethics knowledge in physical therapy (1970-2000). Physical Therapy, 82(7), pp. 692-706.

Triezenberg, H.L. (1996). The identification of ethical issues in physical therapy practice. Physical Therapy, 76(10), pp. 1097-1107.

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