Legal and ethical issues are frequently encountered in the health care setting and present unique challenges to health care professionals. Practicing nurses need to be knowledgeable with these concepts to ensure patient’s rights. In this paper, the author will describe the relationships between legal and ethical issues. In addition, the author will identify personal values and professional ethics and examine ethical theories and principles. Examples of applications of legal and ethical issues to current practice will also be provided.
Relationships Between Legal and Ethical Issues
“Ethics is the branch of philosophy concerned with ...view middle of the document...
Ethical Theories and Principles
There are many ethical theories that have evolved. However, two theories dominate the healthcare environment: deontology and utilitarianism. Although both attempt to provide a framework for processing ethical dilemmas, their approaches are vastly different. “Utilitarianism can be described as an ethical system in which an action is morally right if it brings about good consequences, i.e. it is the goodness or badness of the consequences of the action that makes it right or wrong” (Noble-Adams, 1999, p. 889). Utilitarianism promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people. When presented with an ethical dilemma, each possible action is examined to determine which action will produce the most happiness, regardless if the action is morally wrong. For instance, a convicted murderer of a child is sentenced to death. The death of the murderer would bring greater happiness to the loved ones of the victim and members of society rather than the individual murderer. Therefore, murder by execution would be a sound, ethical decision.
In contrast, the ethics of deontology concerns itself with the intentions of an action rather than the outcomes of the actions (Guido, 2010). “The deontological system is when an action is right if it accords with a moral rule or wrong if it violates such a rule, regardless of the end or purpose of the action (Noble-Adams, 1999, p. 889). Under this theory, the rule of ‘do no harm’ takes precedence. Utilizing the deontological approach places greater weight on respecting the rights of individuals as opposed to the greater good of the greatest number of individuals. In the aforementioned example, the focus changes to the individual and the act. The murder of one individual would not be ethical, regardless of the circumstances.
Guido (2010) proposes a newer ethical framework, called relational ethics, as becoming more utilized in the healthcare setting today. The focus of relational ethics is on the quality and commitment of relationships between the healthcare provider and the individual. The ethical or relational space between people “must be nurtured and respected if ethical practice is to be enacted” (Paul, 2005, para. 2). The four major elements of relational ethics are engagement, mutual respect, embodiment, and environment (Guido, 2010). Because of the close relationship nurses often develop with their patients, this branch of ethics may be more easily applied to clinical situations. Therapeutic relationships fostered with mutual caring and respect promotes ongoing dialogue within the relationship. This open communication allows the exploration of all possibilities as it relates to healthcare and decisions are mutually agreed upon between the healthcare client and professional. This branch of ethics fosters a deep respect for the human relationships in healthcare where ethical principles can be applied.
Nurses and other healthcare professionals use...