The Preamble to the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics states:
“The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”
The NASW Code of Ethics is intended to ensure that the most disadvantaged among us receive the attention and respect they need and deserve as they traverse the public health system. Social workers function as advocates for their clients and help them navigate the seemingly insurmountable bureaucratic maze through which they must travel to receive the services they need. One of the core values enshrined in the Code of Ethics is respect for “the dignity and worth of the person.” The disadvantaged and, particularly, the disenfranchised, are susceptible to abuse and/or neglect even within the public health system that exists to serve them. By continuously reinforcing the importance of the Code of Ethics, social workers are constantly reminded of the importance of the role they play in assisting that sector of society that most requires such assistance. In addition, social workers are often assigned clients who are suffer from diminished mental capacity, whether due to disorders existing since birth or from behavioral choices that adversely affect mental capacity, for example, drug and/or alcohol abuse. In such cases, the social worker is expected to assume at least some of the responsibility for assisting such individuals in making decisions regarding their physical and mental well-being. The Code of Ethics includes a provision directed towards such contingencies: Section 1.03: Informed Consent, the text of which reads as follows:
“In instances when clients lack the capacity to provide informed consent, social workers should protect clients’ interests by seeking permission from an appropriate third party, informing clients consistent with the clients’ level of understanding. In such instances social workers should seek to ensure that the third party acts in a manner consistent with clients’ wishes and interests. Social workers should take reasonable steps to enhance such clients’ ability to give informed consent.”
This is a lot of responsibility, but it is the reason social workers undergo training and are expected to abide the responsibilities inherent in their work. The NASW Code of Ethics informs primary health care by imposing upon social workers the moral responsibility for helping those in need to enter the primary health care system to attain the medical attention they need.