ethics of my intervention

Steven VanderStaay (vandesl@OKRA.MILLSAPS.EDU)
Sat, 12 Mar 1994 12:24:56 CST

suppportive--evidence that anthropologists carry their concern for human
cultures alongside their academic interests.
The list tally, so to speak, is decidedly FOR intervening. Some tell me
that human lives are always worth more than a dissertation, others suggest ways
in which the intervention can become part of the study.
I did not expect this. In fact, the original request for help was part
of my head's resistance to my heart's instincts (please excuse the dichotomous
essentialism). Now, facing the challenge of collegial advice, I've begun to
walk through the steps the intervention would take and have come against
another quandry: I know that if I spelled out the situation to the parole
officer (technically, the youthcourt counselor) he would probably do what I
hope and send my subject to the reform school, thereby ensuring that he doesn't
get shot or shoot somebody, and giving his mother the break she needs to get
help for herself, which I can help her with. Moreover, this would also benefit
a 4 year old sister, obviously at risk under present circumstances.
What I have only now realized, however, is to do this I would have to
break the bond of trust I made with my subject.
There's a physical risk for me--the kid, however close we may be, is
dangerous. More importantly, I did promise confidentiality.
I had thought that all I had to do was to decide to intervene or not.
Now, having had my personal intentions affirmed, I find
I have emotional reasons for and against doing so, as well as an
intellectual quandry (My moral obligation vs. my professional code of ethics).

Steve VanderStaay

Steve V