Ethical Professionals Discussion at Boston Society of Architects

When did pharmaceutical executives take the moral high-ground over architects?

Most of the dozen or so people in attendance at the October 10, 2017 meeting of the BSA Ethics Committee said what you are probably thinking; never. That answer is wrong, however.In May of 2016, Pfizer became the last FDA approved drug manufacturer to release a statement saying they would join the other major pharmaceutical companies, and refuse to sell the drugs used in executions to state and federal agencies.Effectively, the entire pharmaceutical industry has collectively said, “we will not have our products used to execute people”.

In fact, there is a long list of industries that have taken a formal position against their members using their professional skills, training, or products to assist, or enable executions or torture.From the International Academy of Compounding PharmacistsNational Association of Emergency Medical TechniciansNational Commission on Correctional Health CareAmerican Pharmacists AssociationAmerican Public Health AssociationAmerican Medical AssociationAmerican Nurses AssociationAmerican Society of AnesthesiologistsAmerican Psychiatric AssociationAmerican Psychological AssociationAmerican College of Correctional PhysiciansAmerican Board of Anesthesiology, and the World Medical Association.

The American Institute of Architects has not.

This is the root of the ADPSR ethics campaign: to encourage the AIA to take a similar position. AIA could adopt an ethics rule that would ensure the profession acts in ways that are consistent with upholding human rights when it comes to extreme cases of designing spaces intended for execution or torture.

The Boston Society of Architects Ethics Committee, however, is engaging in a conversation around this topic. At the October 10thmeeting, the committee hosted Shawn Hesse, a member of the board of ADPSR, and Brad Walker, a former member of the National Ethics Council at AIA, to discuss the implications of the campaign, and the steps that the BSA could take independent of a strong stance from the AIA nationally.

The conversation revolved around two primary topics.The first, that the newly revised 2017 AIA Code of Ethics includes references to Human Rights, and includes new Ethical Standard, 1.5 – “Design for Human Dignity and the Health, Safety and Welfare of the Public: Members should employ their professional knowledge and skill to design buildings and spaces that will enhance and facilitate human dignity and the health, safety, and welfare of the individual and the public.”

The second topic was that the terms “Human Rights”, “prolonged solitary confinement”, “cruel and degrading”, and “torture” all have very specific definitions, as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Mandela Rules (which provide guidance for how to design prisons while maintaining respect for the basic human rights and dignity of the individuals).

Although the majority of the conversation was focused on what could be done, there was disagreement about what it should be, and even whether anything should be done at all. In fact, through the concerns that were raised, it is clear that ADPSR should also take into account and include in our campaign the impact that prison buildings and spaces have on the mental health and dignity of not just the people who are imprisoned, but also the people who are the guards.

There was agreement that the BSA Ethics Committee would like to continue conversation, and there was a suggestion that the BSA distribute the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Mandela Rules to their members, with a tentative date in early 2018 to reconvene and discuss those standards more in depth.

Even if the architecture profession as a whole hasn’t regained the ethical high-ground, at least the BSA is working on it.

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