"Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can. - Peter Singer
"Common sense is not so common." - Voltaire

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Vignette 11: An Unexpected Inheritance

A psychologist receives a letter from an attorney indicating that he inherited an old car from Frank Palmer.  Upon reflection, the psychologist recalls that he had treated Mr. Palmer a number of years ago.  Looking through his files, the psychologist cannot find his file, so it must have been more than five years ago.

The psychologist phones the attorney and discovers that Mr. Palmer left him a 1993 four-wheel drive Ford Explorer.  He asked the attorney if anyone is contesting the will.  Apparently, no one is.  The executor is Mr. Palmer’s brother, who lives in a different state.

The psychologist obtains the keys and title for the vehicle.  He drives the car to a local dealer who indicated that the Explorer is worth about $3,500.

The psychologist cannot remember many details about the patient.   He recalled that he was an older person with significant depression who eventually became better.  There is nothing unusual that stands out about their therapeutic relationship.

Feeling guilty, the psychologist calls you on the phone to discuss his feelings and any possible ethical concerns.

What are the potential ethical concerns about this scenario, if any?

What suggestions or options would you give the psychologist?

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While a similar experience happened to a psychologist, for further discussion with students, supervisees, or colleagues, the educator or group leader may want to compare and contrast the ethics and options with different details.

Use the same scenario with an antique car worth $50,000 and a family member is contesting the psychologist’s portion of the will.

Would your opinions change about the ethical issues and options related to the situation.  If so, what is different that changes the opinions?
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