Top Ethical Issues in Nursing

This article from Loyola University is very timely and interesting.  Please read the entire article at the source.

Nurses today are faced with ethical dilemmas constantly, so much so that most states now require continuing education in ethics for license renewal.   As I read this article, I realized just how many issues nurses face as I recognized several of these issues I have dealt with at work.

Our society is constantly changing and nurses need to stay up to date with all the current issues as they present themselves.  Between political, religious, and cultural issues you need to walk carefully, making sure not to impose your own values on patients or having their values imposed on you.

Nurses are people first, then they are nurses.  We cannot help having beliefs and values that we learned as children.  But knowing that does not make it simple or easy to deal with the various patients a nurse may come into contact with in the course of a shift.

Top Ethical Issues in Nursing

While a career in nursing is immensely fulfilling, it’s not without its share of challenges. Regardless of their area of practice or accreditation, nurses face a multitude of ethical dilemmas every day. Let’s take a closer look at what ethics mean for today’s healthcare professionals, along with some of the common ethical issues faced by nurses in today’s complex healthcare settings.


While there’s no clear-cut right or wrong answer to the often life and death ethical issues encountered by nurses, there is a set of principles upon which ethical decision making is based. Regulatory mechanisms are aimed at ensuring the highest standards of ethics. For example, the International Council of Nurses’ ICN Code of Ethics asserts that, in addition to the core responsibilities of promoting health, preventing illness and easing suffering, “a respect for human rights, including cultural rights, the right to life and choice, to dignity, and to be treated with respect,” is also an inherent part of the job.

While the code further dictates that “the nurse’s primary professional responsibility is to people requiring nursing care,” it also specifies that nurses not only render services to individuals, but also to families and communities. This is a tall order when you factor in the many diversities represented in society today.


So what are some of the most common ethical dilemmas nurses encounter on the job? They include the following:

  • Patient Freedom Versus Nurse Control
    Nurses are highly educated and therefore aware of the best clinical course of action when one exists. But what happens when a patient rejects medical advice and makes a decision that may result in less optimal outcomes? From deciding whether or not a labor and delivery patient would benefit from pain medication, to encouraging a patient to eat when they are refusing food, nurses walk a fine line every day.While nurses do not sign the Hippocratic Oath, they are stillbound by the promise to devote themselves to the welfare of the patients committed to the care, as well as to live up to the standards of the profession.
  • Reproductive Rights
    The pro-choice vs. pro-life argument is an intensely personal one based on an individual’s core set of values and beliefs. If you are pro-life, can you support a patient’s right to an abortion? If you are pro-choice, can you respect a patient’s choice to continue a pregnancy even if it threatens her own life?With more than 208 million pregnancies occurring worldwide every year, nurses can expect to be confronted with this ethical dilemma on any given shift.
  • Honesty vs. Information
    Families will often choose to withhold truthful information to “protect” a patient from emotional distress. For nurses, this poses another common ethical dilemma: does a patient have the right to know everything about their condition…(read the article here)
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