What is the purpose of nursing ethics?

Ethical frameworks for nursing practice aim to provide guidance on how to identify ethical issues, make ethical decisions and take actions within the context of providing person- and family-centred care, working with communities and colleagues and being accountable for nursing practice.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) code of ethics for nurses is the guiding document for ethical decision-making for nurses in Australia. The code identifies ethical standards and values agreed to by the profession. It is a tool for nurses to reflect on how to apply ethics within their domains of practice. The elements within the code describe the human rights standards and ethical values nurses are expected to uphold.

Elements included in the code of ethics for nurses are:

  • promotion of an environment in which the human rights, values, customs and spiritual beliefs of the individual, family, and community are respected.
  • advocating for equity and social justice in resource allocation, access to health care and other social and economic services.
  • holding in confidence personal information and using judgment in sharing information
  • using judgment regarding individual competence when accepting and delegating responsibility
  • ensuring that provision of care and use of technology is compatible with the safety, dignity, and rights of people.
  • active participating in developing research-based professional knowledge that supports evidence-based practice
  • contributes to an ethical organisational environment and challenges unethical practices and settings.
  • sustaining collaborative and respectful relationships with co-workers (ref: International Council of Nurses (2012) The ICN code of ethics for
    nurses. Retrieved from: https://www.icn.ch/sites/default/files/inline-files/2012_ICN_Codeofethicsfornurses_%20eng.pdf)

Ethics is framed by the principles and standards of human rights and ‘the inherent dignity of all members of the human family’, recognised as ‘the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.[8] The Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes civil and political rights, such as the rights to life, liberty, free speech, and privacy. It also includes economic, social and cultural rights - the rights to social security, health and education.

Alongside the concept of human rights, nursing ethics appeals to the principles of justice, autonomy, beneficence (doing good) and non-maleficence (avoiding harm) when justifying ethical decision-making.[9]