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What Ethical Issues Occur in Nursing?

Ethical Issues in Nursing

Nursing is challenging without a doubt. Like any mainstream profession, nurses have to face ethical issues on daily basis. The game of life and death is so intense that making the right decision gets even more difficult and crucial. Whether it’s about a patient’s life or something comparatively smaller like recommending the right doctor, we need to consider the nursing code of ethics each time.


Since ethics are the general code of conduct in any profession, they are assessed on an individual’s personal standard of right and wrong. Two nurses may view the same problem differently or come up with varied solutions for the same ethical issues. The overall aim is just to provide good care and refrain from causing deliberate harm.


The ethical dilemmas nurses come across, generally, pertain to the quality as well as quantity of life. The quality of life may address issues such as, freedom of choice, informed decision making, empirical knowledge, etc. quantity may refer to the number of people affected by a decision. The quality of patients’ life is especially affected by their own ideas and the way they view “good”.


So, how does a nurse help a patient in reaching a decision that might let him live longer but in a state that is devoid of all comfort? The side effects of his treatment may be too strong or may leave him crippled financially. How should the nurses deal with such decisions for their patients? If it were one of their own family members, would they leave him in such care?


Patient Privacy:

Patient Privacy

Privacy and confidentiality are the fundamental rights of each individual. Nurse-patient relationship is that of trust. Patients share their worst fears with their physicians and nurses, and expect their secrets to be respected by those personnel. Just as much as they trust nurses to help them survive, they trust their discretion and understanding of those issues. The professional obligation to keep a patient’s treatment private is way too heavy on the nurses as they spend more time together unlike the physician.


Recognizing the Advanced Directive:

Recognizing the Advanced Directive

An Advanced Healthcare Directive (a.k.a. advance decision or personal directive) being in place means that now the medical personnel cannot influence a patient’s decision and must comply with his wishes and instructions. As long as the patient doesn’t take a decision, his physician or nurse can prescribe a certain course of action. But once a patient takes the route of advanced directive, his autonomy must be respected. The nurse’s personal beliefs must not interfere with the will of his/her patient.


Fair Distribution of Resources:

Fair Distribution of Resources

One crucial decision that nurses have to make is that of the meaningful distribution of resources. Where life is celebrated as a gift, dedicating costly resources to one patient and depriving another of the same is hard. Look at the scarcity and cost of life support system. Your heart goes out to each patient but how many could actually utilize that facility. Once a patient is beyond recovery, you cannot continue him on that machine. There are hundreds of other patients who might have a better chance if put on that machine. Just because a patient’s family can’t let go…doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have to, either.


Ethical issues occur in all respectable fields. Medicine has it on a very serious level. Every personnel, be it a doctor or a nurse, has great responsibilities on their shoulders. Their decisions affect lives of many and therefore, should not be underestimated in terms of severity. A sincere approach to help others goes a long way in saving thousands of lives over the course of a career. Nurses must be vigilant and sincere.


Do share your thoughts, nurses, and let us know what other ethical issues you face in your practice.


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