When an Interpreter’s Ethics are Tested

September 25, 2013 JAlfonso 2 comments

Lately I have had a couple of difficult cases that tested my ethical professionalism.
Case number one.
Mr. Gabriel Dominguez (obviously I changed the names or else I would be in trouble for confidentiality issues) had a serious injury on the job which required surgery and extensive therapy. A nurse case manager worked closely and conscientiously with him and we were assigned to interpret for all his medical appointments.

Eventually he reached a plateau in therapy and the doctor stated there was no more he could do for him. Shortly afterward, the nurse had me inform the claimant that she had closed the file and he needed to await contact from the insurance company to close the case.

After a while, the claimant began contacting us to arrange a conference call with the adjuster. Our office attempted on many occasions. We also e-mailed the adjuster to arrange the conference call. There was never a response. After repeated attempts, the claimant finally called me and asked if I could refer him to an attorney. I explained to him that according to our code of ethics, Interpreters must stay unbiased and refrain from giving advice to the patient.

This is where he began to beg and it became much more difficult for me. “Sir, I don’t speak the language, and I don’t understand how this country does things. I don’t know anyone who can help me. I know that you are a good person, you know how things work, you have been around, you must know a good lawyer! Please, please help me I don’t know what else to do or who to go to!”

I have to say that that earnest plea for help tore me up inside! However, I also know that the reason we have earned respect from all sides is because we do our job well without getting ourselves emotionally involved. We communicate well and stay neutral. Our service of clear communication enables all parties to get the information they need and use that information to make necessary decisions. Therefore, after a long thoughtful pause, I repeated my position on the code of ethics and explained that if it was his personal decision to find an attorney, I’m sure he could find one in the phone book or the internet.

That particular moment was tough for me. What would you have done? Please share with me your comments. I’m interested in seeing if there was a better way. The next blog will feature recent case number two.

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