Ethics: Principles or standards that govern proper conduct. Concerns what is right or wrong on the basis of a body of knowledge, not just on the basis of opinions. Protects the rights of human beings. Ethics govern proper conduct and are as important as legal rights.


Ethical principles:

  • Autonomy: Consists of freedom to make decisions that will impact welfare and take action for self. Self-determination
  • Paternalism: Acting in a fatherly or motherly manner, usually restricts client's autonomy and impacts decision-making.
  • Beneficence: To act in the best interests of others. Includes promoting good, preventing harm, and removing harm.
  • Justice: Fair, equitable, and appropriate treatment. Resources are distributed equally to all.
  • Veracity: The obligation to tell the truth.
  • Fidelity: The duty to do what one has promised.

Ethical standards:

  • Serve as the basis of ethical codes such as the American Nurses' Association Code of Ethics.

ANA Code of Ethics:

  • The nurse, in all professional relationships practices with respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness for every individual unrestricted by considerations of social or economic status, personal attributes or the nature of health status.
  • The nurse’s primary commitment is to the patient whether an individual, family, group or community.
  • The nurse promotes, advocates for, and strives to protect the rights of the patient.
  • The nurse is responsible and accountable for individual nursing practice and determines the appropriate delegation of tasks consistent with the nurse’s obligation to provide optimum patient care.
  • The nurse owes the same duties to self as others, including the responsibility to preserve integrity and safety, to maintain competence, and to personal and professional growth.
  • The nurse participates in establishing, providing and promoting health care environments and conditions of employment conducive to the provision of quality health care and consistent with the values of the profession through individual and collective action.
  • The nurse participates in the advancement of the profession through contributions to practice, education, administration and knowledge development.
  • The nurse collaborates with other health care professionals and the public in promoting community, national, and international efforts to meet health care needs.
  • The profession of nursing, as represented by associations and their members, is responsible for articulating nursing values, for maintaining the integrity of the profession, and its practice and for shaping social policy.
  • Ethical codes are not legally binding but the Board of Nurse Examiners has authority to reprimand nurses for unprofessional conduct that results from violation of ethical codes.

Ethical dilemmas:

  • Occur when there is a conflict between two or more ethical principles. There is no correct decision and the nurse must choose between two alternatives that are equally unsatisfactory.
  • Hospitals have Ethics Committees to develop and establish policies and procedures to address ethical dilemmas. Committees are multidisciplinary to address many different viewpoints.
Values: Personal belief about the worth of a given idea or behavior. To value an idea or behavior is to find it preferable to others. Values reflect personal needs, cultural, and societal influences, and relationships with others. Groups or professions have shared values and these influence decision making.

Morals: Beliefs about what is right or wrong, good or bad. Ethics is a practical way of putting morals into practice. Ethical considerations define morals essential to practice.