Numbers & Faces – Ethics of Person Centered Planning [PDF]

John O’Brien

2002 – Retardation

The Kingdom of Number is all boundaries Which may be beautiful and must be true; To ask if it is big or small proclaims one The sort of lover who should stick to faces…

– W. H. Auden The Contradiction Between Service Values and Service Capacity

Person-centered planning challenges the ethics of its practitioners because it creates a context for the kind of listening that invites engagement in another person’s life. Borrowing the terms of the first line from Auden’s “Numbers and Faces” (1991, p. 623), ethical challenges arise as listening puts a human face on a contradiction between a service’s espoused values and its actual performance. Listening reveals personal interests that fit a system’s stated commitment to values of individualization, self-determination, and inclusion but attempts at action reveal that the system’s capacity to respond adequately lags. These ethical challenges take the form of a decision about whether a contradiction is big enough to call for personal action or small enough for the practitioner to pass by without active concern. The ethical challenge deepens with recognition of the power difference between the practitioner and the person to whom she listens. The person with a developmental disability has very little chance of favorably resolving the contradiction without mobilized allies who will act with him. The practitioner can easily walk away from the situation on completion of the meeting and its related paperwork.