In every nurse’s career, the nurse is faced with many legal or ethical dilemmas. One of the professional competencies for nursing states that nurses should ” integrate knowledge of ethical and legal aspects of health care and professional values into nursing practice”. It is important to know what types of dilemmas nurses may face during their careers and how they may have been dealt with in the past. It is also important for nurses to understand what malpractice is and how they may protect themselves from a malpractice suit.
It is important to first understand the difference between law and ethics. Ethics examines the values and actions of people. Often times there is no one right course of action when one is faced with an ethical dilemma. On the other hand, laws are binding rules of conduct. When laws are broken, it is punishable by an authority figure. There are four types of situations that pertain to law vs. ethics. The first would be an action that is both legal and ethical. An example of this would be a nurse carrying out appropriate doctor’s orders as ordered.
A nurse may also be faced with an action that may be ethical but not legal, such as allowing a cancer patient to smoke marijuana for medicinal urposes. The opposite may arise where an action may be legal but not ethical. Finally, an action may be neither legal or ethical. For example, when a nurse makes a medication error and does not report it. Nurses have many ethical duties to their clients. The main ethical duties are: nonmaleficence, beneficence, fidelity, veracity, and justice. The duty of nonmaleficence is the duty to do no harm.
The nurse first needs to ask him or herself what harm is. When a nurse gives an injection she is causing the patient pain but she is also preventing additional harm such as disease development or prolonged pain. Therefore, the nurse must ask herself a second question about how much harm should be tolerated. The duty of beneficence is to do good. In a sense, it is at the opposite end of nonmaleficence or at the positive end of the nonmaleficence > beneficence continuum. The duty of fidelity means to be faithful, or to keep to your promises.
Therefore, if a nurse tells his patient that he will be back with her pain medication within fifteen minutes then he has an ethical duty to follow through with what he has said. Truth telling or, information disclosure, is the principle behind the duty of veracity. The main argument gainst information disclosure is that the disclosure of bad news may shatter the patient’s hope. Those in favor of information disclosure state that it is part of the patient’s rights to know what is happening and that patients with potentially fatal illnesses are capable of handling the truth.
Their are three types of justice: distributive justice, compensatory justice, and procedural justice. Distributive justice concerns the comparative treatment of individuals in the allotment of benefits and burdens (Purtilo, 1993). An example in which a question of distributive justice may arise is when there s a limited amount of federal grants and research money is needed for AIDS, cancer, and many other deserving medical research projects.
Compensatory justice deals with the compensation for wrongs that have been done (Purtilo, 1993). An example of this would be a jury awarding a victim money based on pain and suffering from medical malpractice. Finally, procedural justice deals with ordering something in a “fair” manner (Purtilo, 1993). An example would be the process in which people are eligible to receive organ transplants, the sickest patients are at the top of the list.