What Are the Similarities Between Ethics and Law?

Ethics and law are closely intertwined as they both have a focus on right and wrong, preventing immoral acts and on creating rules for trade groups such as doctors and social workers. However, ethics and law are quite different as well and ethical obligations often exceed a person’s duty to the law.

The law also can force people to perform what they believe to be unethical conduct. Physicians who feel that a law forces them to be unethical must work within the legal world to change the law. Of course, a physician who has been exonerated from a criminal charge in the eyes of the law may have still been guilty and been ethically irresponsible.

Yet another example of the difference between laws and ethics can be seen in interpersonal relationships. A parent who is not spending time with his or her children could be considered ethically irresponsible as the children have a right to spend time with their parent. However, unless the lack of times leads to severe neglect, this choice to spend time away from one’s children is not illegal.

While both laws and ethics work to establish a moral boundary for all people, ethics is a more personal honor code while the law is a justice-based rulebook. Violating laws will send a person to jail or give a person fines. Violating an ethical code will lead to shame and possibly the scorn of others; however, ethical codes do not carry legal punishments with them.