Panel: Society Must Set Clear Ethical Standards

Society needs to play a greater role in letting the professions know what ethical and moral values are expected of them, a four-member Harvard faculty panel said yesterday.

The symposium, one of 11 sessions held yesterday in honor of the Harvard presidential inauguration, was moderated by Dennis F. Thompson, Whitehead professor of political philosophy and director of the program in ethics and the professions. Whitehead provided an overview of the study of ethics at Harvard, before an audience of more than 60 in the Kennedy School of Government penthouse.

"Society must have a greater input in how the professions are regulated and what ethical values should be established so that self interest can be channeled through the rules," said Kenneth J. Ryan, Ladd professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School.

Speaking of President Neil L. Rudenstine, Thompson said, "The president being inaugurated today is very committed to the importance of ethics in higher education and to the idea that universities have a commitment to help prepare men and women for public and professional life."

Panelist and Ames Professor of Law Philip B. Heymann said he does not think the legal profession can be ethical.


"The role of lawyers is to exploit and take advantage of our opponents' weaknesses and win money for our clients," Heymann said. "Because of this requirement, I must say, lawyers can not be ethical in performing their duties."

Ryan cited several examples of ethical conflicts in medicine, including research on humans and alliances between doctors and drug companies.

"I have found ethics in this profession often lacking, especially in reacting too slowly to potential conflicts of interest," Ryan said. Ryan and Heymann both said their professions have failed to regulate themselves adequately.

Among the personalities at the well-attended symposium were Arthur Liman, U.S. Senate counsel for the Iran-Contra hearings and legal adviser to convicted junkbond king Michael Milken. Assistant Professor of Law Charles J. Olgetree, who advised Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill at the Senate confirmation hearings last week, attended as well.

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