The 7 Ethical Principles in Nursing

Ethical principles in nursing

In this article, I will cover all you’ll ever need to know about ethical principles in nursing. Including the history, exact definitions of all different principles, practical examples, and much more.

Knowing the 7 ethical principles in nursing is valuable information whether you are just study nursing or already working as a nurse.

Without further ado, let’s get started covering the topic of ethical principles in nursing.

What are ethical principles in nursing?

Ethical principles in nursing constitute the fundamental guidelines that are found in other professions.

Nurses need to provide their patients with high-quality care. They come face to face with certain ethical challenges during their professional practice.

Hence, they should know about these ethical principles.

It has been seen that ethical principles have been widely adopted by many professions these days.

In nursing, these codes are published by almost every professional group across the world. International Council of Nurses adopted the first international ethical principles for nurses in the year 1953.

The ethical codes of conduct figure about how the nurses must behave as a profession.

The principles lay emphasis on how they should make a decision when faced with barriers that prevent them from satisfying their professional obligations.

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These codes greatly help to reduce the moral distress of the nurses and support them in their practice.

Next, you’ll get to know the 7 ethical principles in nursing and the meanings behind them.

7 ethical principles in nursing

What are ethical principles in nursing?

The 7 ethical principles that every nurse should adhere to include the principles of:

  • justice
  • autonomy
  • beneficence
  • veracity
  • research
  • leadership
  • nonmaleficence.

Here are the 7 ethical principles in nursing in more detail.

Ethical principles in nursing: Justice

Ethical principles in nursing: Justice

Justice means fairness. Nurses should remain fair when it is about distributing care among a group of patients. Care should be equal and fair among patients.

Justice is considered a composite ethical principle because it entails impartiality, equality, and fairness. In short, it’s the obligation to stay fair to every patient.

The exact concept of justice becomes clear when you understand its two categories: distributive and social justice.

Distributive implies that nurses should treat every individual equally regardless of gender, age, culture, ethnic group, social standing, economic level, religious belief, medical diagnosis, or other individual characteristics.

Social justice implies equal rights to participate and access every aspect of services or goods present in the society irrespective of their individual characteristics.

See also: How Can Nurses Reduce Health Disparities?

Every person should have proper access to the same service or things that may improve their health.

Ethical principles in nursing: Autonomy

Autonomy is an ethical principle in nursing that you may have heard of, but do not know by this specific name.

This term refers to each and every person’s right to independence, freedom to choose, and self-determination.

In the healthcare context, autonomy concerns the ethical obligation of the nurses to respect their patient’s right to decide about their personal health.

Autonomy should be respected even when you don’t agree with the patient’s decision. Nurses should maintain confidentiality when it comes to the medical condition of the patients.

But, there are certain situations in which autonomy or personal choice may get compromised.

The autonomy gets restricted when the matter is a concern for the general well-being of a community.

For instance, is an individual has been diagnosed with a communicable disease like tuberculosis, patients have to take medications. They may even have to remain in isolation to prevent infectious diseases from spreading.

Ethical principles in nursing: Beneficence

7 Ethical principles in nursing: Beneficence

The term beneficence refers to doing only the right and good things for the client or patient.

Beneficence involves having compassion, taking positive actions for the improvement of the patients, and follow the heart for doing only the good things.

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It is the feeling and desire to do only the best things to have positive effects.

In short, beneficence may be treated as the obligation to create benefit for a group of patients, or an individual one. This thing is deeply connected to nonmaleficence.

It marks itself with the other important aspect in the Hippocratic tradition that says nurses should help and heal the patients according to their judgment and ability.

However, the principle of beneficence differs from the principle of nonmaleficence.

The basic difference between these two principles is that nonmaleficence is regularly, but not always, involves the deletion of harmful action.

Whereas, beneficence contributes to the welfare of others.

There is still 4 ethical principles in nursing left so let’s keep on going.

Ethical principles in nursing: Veracity

Veracity means to remain truthful with the patients regardless of any circumstances.

Nurses shouldn’t withhold the entire truth from their clients or patients even when it leads to distress among the patient.

Truthfulness and confidentiality are the two concepts that you can find in everyday practice in the healthcare industry.

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The literal meaning of being truthful is all about telling only the truth to the patients because they have the right to know.

For instance, if you know a person who has been diagnosed with HIV and another person in that community wants to know about the result, you should tell the truth despite the fact that the patient would be upset about learning that.

See also: Can You Be a Nurse With HIV?

The concept of veracity urges a nurse to tell only the truth.

Confidentiality, on the other hand, urges to keep a secret. That means a patient with any kind of information or knowledge has the authority to conceal.

The results should be kept confidential unless the patient gives permission to tell others.

Ethical principles in nursing: Research

7 ethical principles in nursing: Research

Make proper research about a particular happening is another ethical principle that every nurse must adhere to.

You need to understand that nurses, in every setting or role, make significant advances in their profession only through scholarly inquiry and research.

These are the two basic things that are quite necessary.

Apart from these, other important things include the generation of health and nursing policy and professional standards development.

See also: How Can Nurses Influence Policy?

It is very important that nurse education should make the principles of research mandatory for them. This way, every nurse can understand how to implement inquiry and scholarly work into practice standards.

Board memberships and nurse committees are encouraged to put in more professional standards and health policies.

But, the ability to carry on the professional practice standards must continue to exist.

These practices should be changing and improving with developments in practice from time to time.

Ethical principles in nursing: Leadership

Leadership means accepting responsibility for other’s actions.

You should definitely read this also: Responsibility of a Nurse

For nursing care along with other actions, nurses are held accountable. Nurses have to accept any kind of personal or professional consequences that can happen because of their actions. They are also responsible for making those decisions.

Nurses have authority, responsibility, and accountability for nursing practice. They need to take make decisions and take proper action in line with the overall obligation for providing optimal patient care.

Being a nurse, the responsibility of any kind of care aligns with proper decision-making.

Using the authority should be professional and every aspect of ethical principle concerns. These decisions should be properly thought, well planned, and implemented in a responsible way.

Any deputation of nursing functions or activities should be done in consideration for the actions along with the results to happen.

Ethical principles in nursing: Nonmaleficence

The last out of 7 ethical principles in nursing is nonmaleficence.

The ethical principle of nonmaleficence, or do no harm, intentionally or unintentionally.

It makes sure that professional nurses should never ever act in a way so as not to harm anybody, regardless of any type of request made by the client or patient.

Nurses can’t ignore service to an ailing patient.

But, there are certain circumstances where it becomes almost impossible to render only the best of service without imposing any kind of threat. In some situations, nurses can’t avoid doing harm’, or do well’ at the same time.

Let’s take an example to see how it looks like in reality.

You have planned to provide control of birth to every woman in your local area who is in great need of it.

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Yet, cultural beliefs of that community, patient’s reaction to the service, resource availability, and other factors limits you from doing the task.

Moreover, you can’t avoid doing harm all the time to a patient.

For instance, when smoking is banned in public places, it causes harm to individual smokers but saves a wider population.

This ethical principle was the first to get implemented due to its historical significance. This principle is related to the popular Hippocratic ‘primum nil nocere’.

See also: Do Nurses Take an Hippocratic Oath?

Next, I’m going to give you a couple more ethical principles in nursing examples.

Ethical principles in nursing examples

Melisa, a nurse by profession, is responsible to provide community healthcare to about 2500 households. One fine morning Melisa went to Mr. Goldie’s house to give education on family planning to his wife, Chatlu.

In the middle of the conversation, Alissa, their 19-year old daughter urged Melisa to have a private discussion with her.

Alissa requested not to disclose the matter to anyone, even her parents.

Three months ago while she went to fetch water from a lake far from her house, she was raped by an unidentified person. There was no menstruation since then and she has a regular discharge from her birth canal.

She is asking for help.

In this example, it is seen that justice should be fair to all kinds of people irrespective of age, gender, culture, etc.

Truthfulness and confidentiality are fundamental aspects to work in a community. Melisa may feel that Alissa’s parents should know, but the matter of confidentiality is also a priority.

Nonmaleficence is doing no harm’ by not abandoning the patient, and ensuring proper actions are done.

Conclusion about ethical principles in nursing

The development of ethical principles should be an ongoing process.

Hence, nurses should be expected to reflect on their ideas when they discover the shortcomings of those principles during their practice.

Such inputs would help the authorities to improve the principle and make ways for effective implementation.

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About Ida Koivisto, BSN, RN, PHN

Ida is both a registered nurse and public health nurse. Her passion is to provide as much valuable information about nursing to the world as possible. In her spare time from work and blogging, Ida loves to work out at the gym and spend time with relatives.