Every nurse who puts on scrubs must abide by a specific code of conduct. The American Nurses Association outlines these standards or ethics. While there are these codes, they do not always align with bioethics in nursing.
What is Bioethics
Bioethics involves big picture moral dilemmas faced by the medical community. Nursing ethics deal with individual ethical dilemmas that arise from situations between a care provider and patient.
The field bioethics field wrestles with questions such as:
- What is the right thing to do?
- What is worthwhile?
- Who is responsible, to whom and for what?
- What are our obligations to one another?
- What is the fitting response to this moral dilemma, given the context?
- On what moral grounds are such claims made?
Bioethics concerns itself with four major principles:
Respect for Autonomy:
Every patient has the right to make their own medical decisions under assumed agency. This principle underlies the practice of informed consent.
Informed consent occurs when a patient gets educated on the benefits, risks, and alternatives to treatment.
The most common example of this involved Jehovah Witness members who don’t believe it is right to accept blood transfusions. Medical workers have to respect their decisions while informing them of the risks of not receiving treatment.
Nonmaleficence: This principle mandates that providers do not intentionally harm a patient, either by negligence or intent. Though medical mistakes happen, this ethic clarifies that health care workers’ role is to protect patients from harm.
Beneficence: All medical workers must work to benefit their patients and prevent harm. For example, an ER nurse with a patient who needs stitches will stitch the patient up and prevent any more damage.
Justice: This principle has to do with equity and fairness. In other words, since there are limited resources, the goal is to try and distribute them equitably.
That said, the core principles of bioethics in nursing interplay with various medical issues faced today. The field applies to everything from birth to end of life.
Below are a few bioethical issues that arise in modern times.
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This procedure has gained greater prominence over the years. A controversial practice, euthanasia involves terminating a patient’s life to limit their suffering.
The term derives from the Greek words “eu” (good) and “Thanatos” (death). Rather than having a patient endure a slow, painful death, they allow for a peaceful, dignified, or “good death.”
There are two types of euthanasia. The first type is called active euthanasia, which involves killing a patient by active means, for example, giving a patient a lethal dose of a drug.
The other type of euthanasia happens when a clinician withholds life support from a patient, such as a ventilator. This issue corresponds to the ethic of beneficence.
Medical Resource Distribution
Since medical resources are limited, not everyone can receive the proper resources. Therefore, the health care system has its rationing system to help determine how resources get allocated. For example, there are often waiting lists for organ transplants ordered by level of need.
This issue directly correlates to the justice principle along with the principle of beneficence.
Generally, health care workers need to maintain confidentiality and receive informed consent from patients before treatment. However, when the patient is a minor, this complicates the matter. Do minors have a right to make choices apart from their parents’ knowledge?
While some people believe that minors should have the agency to make decisions for themselves, other people think that parents should have the final say and children shouldn’t have privacy.
One other issue involves whether or not health care providers should overrule the decision-making of the parent. This happens if the care provider believes a procedure is in the best interest of the child.
This practice aligns with the principle of autonomy.
Through gene manipulation and selection, scientists can improve genetic quality. However, the question becomes whether or not scientists should take advantage of this. For example, a scientist can change or remove genes from an embryo to prevent certain diseases.
However, when scientists can wipe out negative traits, it could lead to a slippery slope.
Eugenics corresponds to the principle of beneficence.
Final Word on Bioethics in Nursing
Nurses often don’t work in silos. They have a community of thinkers and clinicians to consult when making bioethical decisions. If you are a nurse searching for an organization to become a part of, sign up for Incredible Health to get started finding a job you love to do.
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