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The difference between personal and professional ethics

Personal ethics refers to the ethics that a person identifies with in respect to people and situations that they deal with in everyday life.

Professional ethics refers to the ethics that a person must adhere to in respect of their interactions and business dealings in their professional life.

In some cases, personal and professional ethics may clash and cause a moral conflict. For example:

  • A police officer may personally believe that a law that he is required to enforce is wrong. However, under the Code of Conduct for the New Zealand Police, he is required to obey all lawful and reasonable instructions to enforce that law unless there is good and sufficient cause to do otherwise.
  • A doctor may not personally believe that the course of medical treatment chosen by a patient is the right one. However, under the Code of Ethics for the New Zealand Medical Association, she must respect the rights, autonomy and freedom of choice of the patient.


More often than not people at work resolve moral conflicts by drawing a line between their professional and individual roles.

In other words, they separate their work from their personal life and follow their professional code of conduct.