Toward an ethics of societal transformation: the American Physical Therapy Code of Ethics in the 21st century


Physical Therapy


Codes of ethics articulate a moral vision to educate, improve self-understanding, and provide guidance to members of a profession. The current Code of Ethics for the Physical Therapist was adopted by the House of Delegates in July 2010. Additionally, the APTA recently updated both the vision and mission statements. Ideally these three documents should contain consistent themes that are easily recognized and acted upon by the profession’s members. It is clear that that the APTA vision and mission statements could not have been written from the perspective of a deontological framework because ‘society’ was designated as the target. The language implies that there is an obligation beyond traditional therapist-to-patient episodic care interactions. The purpose of this commentary is three- fold. First, the major philosophical frameworks of ethics will be reviewed with respect to how they apply to healthcare decision-making and the current APTA Code of Ethics for the Physical Therapist. Second, we will discuss how the current Code may fall short in helping the profession realize its vision statement to transform society due to blind spots in its fundamental ethical orientations. Finally, we will provide recommendations regarding how the APTA might reimagine the Code to truly support population health practice, research, and advocacy through explicitly incorporating concepts of (1) unequivocal acceptance of health as a human right, (2) upstream thinking, (3) mitigating risk, and (4) realizing the importance of life trajectory.

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 4-4-2020

Publication Title

Physical Therapy Journal of Policy, Administration, and Leadership