7 Principles of Ethics in Nursing
Nursing ethics are the standards and rules that nurses must follow to maintain quality care and professionalism. Nurses use ethical principles to make judgment calls when situations arise that affect patients and colleagues.
Some of the core nursing ethics include autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice, and fidelity. This article will explore 7 principles of ethics in nursing and explain how they are applied in practice.
Accountability is a core ethical principle in nursing, and nurses must take responsibility for their actions. This includes acknowledging the professional and personal consequences of their choices. Nurses who are accountable are more likely to build trusting relationships with patients and provide consistent, high-quality care.
Nursing’s ethical principles include justice, beneficence, nonmaleficence and autonomy. These principles help nurses navigate moral dilemmas and make decisions that promote patient well-being. They also encourage nurses to consider the broader social context of their patients, including social determinants of health and disparities in healthcare access and quality. These factors contribute to the overall health of a person.
The principle of beneficence states that nurses should always act in patients’ best interests. This includes preventing harm, treating patients with dignity and respect, and reporting medical errors.
The American Nurses Association’s code of ethics also defines the nursing virtue of benevolence as “kindness and charity.” Beneficence is about doing good, such as taking a patient outside for fresh air when they’ve been cooped up in the hospital for weeks.
The opposite of beneficence is nonmaleficence, which is the principle of avoiding harm. It’s important for nurses to understand the difference between the two. Nonmaleficence sometimes conflicts with beneficence, especially when a patient’s life could be at risk without any potential benefit.
The principle of nonmaleficence, rooted in the Hippocratic Oath, states that nurses must do no harm. Nurses must prioritize patients’ safety by evaluating the benefits and risks of treatment options, avoiding actions that may cause harm by either intent or omission.
Nursing ethics are vital to the profession because patients place their trust, their care, and sometimes even life-and-death decisions in nurses’ hands. Knowing the nursing code of ethics and practicing its principles of autonomy, justice, beneficence, and nonmaleficence on a daily basis ensures nurses are putting their patients’ best interests first.
Other ethical principles nurses use include accountability, fidelity, and veracity. Using these principles helps nurses make ethically sound healthcare choices that benefit their patients and colleagues alike.
Fidelity refers to a nurse’s honesty and loyalty. It involves gaining patients’ trust and reliance through understanding their situation and status and conforming to them appropriately.
As an example, nurses implement beneficence when they advocate for their patients to receive evidence-based care. They also practice nonmaleficence, or a duty to avoid harming their patients, by making sure they are not exposed to unnecessary risk.
Nurses are rated as the most trustworthy professionals, according to a Gallup poll. However, they often face moral dilemmas when the nursing code and patient values conflict. For instance, when a patient refuses life support or a nurse has to break confidentiality to prevent a fatal medication error.
The autonomy ethical principle requires nurses to respect patients’ right to self-determination. This includes promoting open communication and collaboration with patients to foster strong nurse-patient relationships.
Autonomy is defined as a person’s ability to govern themselves independently of controlling others or from limitations, such as incompetence, that prevent meaningful choice. The concept of individual autonomy is a modern development and arguably the central idea of western humanism.
It is an aspect of persons that undue paternalism offends; it precludes interference with a person’s actions or knowledge without justification. It does not, however, imply that a person who wants to live a subservient life or request euthanasia is not autonomous.
Nurses have access to a significant amount of personal and medical information about patients, from admission documentation and assessments to records and direct patient care. Veracity means nurses must be completely honest with patients and not withhold information that could be harmful.
Nursing professionals also promise to “do no harm” to their patients, as stated in the Hippocratic Oath, which requires nurses to only administer treatments that can benefit patients. Nurses must practice veracity by telling patients the truth about treatments and potential side effects.
The ANA Code of Ethics serves as the profession’s moral compass, articulating the ethical obligations, duties and standards nurses must uphold in their daily work. Its seven provisions and interpretive statements include accountability, beneficence, nonmaleficence, fidelity, autonomy and veracity.