Ethics in Nursing helps Nurses maintain professional accountability and navigate the complexities of the Nursing profession. Ethics are the moral principles by which people should carry themselves. Ethics is one of the most critical concepts in Nursing as it dictates our role as caregivers.
The Nursing code of ethics consists of 4 main principles. These principles are used to guide Nurses in delivering quality Nursing care while also fulfilling the ethical obligations expected within the profession. The principles include autonomy, beneficence, justice, and non-maleficence.
Four Main Principals of Nursing Ethics
Autonomy in Nursing refers to the right each patient has to make decisions based on their personal beliefs or values. As Nurses, we are responsible for educating patients on care measures and allowing them to accept or refuse medical interventions. We must respect the choices of our patients and adapt our care to what best suits their wants. An example of autonomy in Nursing is educating a patient about the side effects of medication and allowing the patient to accept or decline taking it.
Beneficence is the principle that every action performed by the Nurse should be to promote good. This means that every task a Nurse completes during her shift should be done for the sole benefit of the patient. Simple things we do in Nursing, like holding the hand of a dying patient or taking a patient outside to get fresh air, are considered beneficence.
Justice in the Nursing code of ethics means that patients have the right to impartial treatment. We do not judge our patients in the Nursing profession. Patients must be respected and treated equally regardless of their financial or insurance status, gender, age, or ethnicity. Justice in Nursing is treating all our patients equally and ensuring they receive the best possible care regardless of their situation.
Nonmaleficence is closely related to beneficence but is a different concept altogether. Nonmaleficence means that a Nurse should do no harm to the patient. This principal guides Nurses to maintain their obligation to protect their patients. Nurses should always prevent bad outcomes for their patients whenever possible by removing them from any harm. An example of nonmaleficence in Nursing is preventing medication errors by ensuring the “7 rights” of medication administration are correct or by applying a bed alarm to a patient’s bed with dementia to prevent falls.
What are Ethical Dilemmas in Nursing?
The 4 main principles of Nursing ethics prepare us to deal with the ethical dilemmas we encounter while caring for our patients. Ethical dilemmas in Nursing create a conflict between 2 courses of action.
The competing courses of action are both correct but can create different consequences that must be considered. Ethical dilemmas are important to recognize because, as Nurses, we cannot interject our personal beliefs into the ethical dilemmas at hand. Examples of ethical dilemmas can include:
- Protecting the privacy of an adolescent
- A parent refusing to vaccinate their child
- End of life decision making
- Informed consent
- Pro-life vs. prochoice
Becoming an Ethical Nurse
Nursing is consistently regarded as one of the most trusted professions. Nursing ethics are essential to know and understand as it helps guide our everyday Nursing practice. Nurses are thoroughly prepared to deal with the ethical situations they encounter through many years of education and training.
Nurses can continue to learn how to conduct themselves ethically and how to deal with ethical issues through continued work experiences. Every patient interaction can teach us something new about ethical dilemmas and how we can best handle them in the workplace.