Ask the expert: Understanding ethics in nursing

Nurse Leader Insider, November 23, 2009

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This week, Diana Swihart, PhD, DMin, MSN, CS, RN-BC, discusses ethics and the importance of educating new nurses on the key concepts of the issue.

Q: As a nurse manager dealing with new nursing graduates, what are some key ethical concepts I should cover to reiterate the importance of the issue?

A: Nurses today serve on ethics committees, write books and articles about ethics, and obtain advanced degrees in ethics. Why? Because now, perhaps more than any time in history, nurses confront a growingly complex array of ethical dilemmas—the "gray areas" between competing right decisions—and the challenges they present. The following is a brief overview of some key ethical concepts:

Autonomy: The right to self-determination, independence, and freedom, i.e., nurses’ willingness to respect patients' rights to make decisions about and for themselves, even if they disagree with those decisions.

Justice: The obligation to be fair to all people, distributive justice specifically states that people have the right to be treated equally regardless of race, sex, martial status, age, social standing, or religious belief.

Fidelity: The obligation to be faithful to commitments made to self and others. This is the main support for the concept of accountability.

To read more about holding others accountable, click here.

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