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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?

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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.

Beneficence: Views the primary goal of healthcare as doing good for the patients under one's care. This is more than just technically competent care.

Veracity: "Truthfulness" requires that the healthcare provider tell the truth and not intentionally deceive or mislead patients, families, or other healthcare providers.

Obligations: Demands made on persons, professions, society, or government to fulfill and honor the rights of others.


-- Diana Swihart, PhD, DMin, MSN, CS, RN-BC

(November 2009)