The aim of this paper is to describe the current status of psychiatric ethics as a form of professional ethics and apply this approach to a common clinical situation. Conclusion: Psychiatry is a profession and, like all professions, comprises a set of specific skills and knowledge that are applied for the ‘common good’ of society. Such a proposition places the psychiatrist in a position of tension between contractarian and Hippocratic ideals of ethical conduct, in that there is an assumption of moral equivalence between the law and ethics. The supposition that legally defensible behaviours are the same as ethically defensible behaviours is integral to the definition of professional ethics. This frequently places psychiatrists at odds with the ‘do no harm’ principle.
(Reprinted with permission from Australasian Psychiatry 2007; 15(3):201—206; full text of article available online at www.informaworld.com/10.1080/10398560701308274)