INTRODUCTION 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. Itis also important for nurses to understand what malpractice is and how they may protect themselves from a malpractice suit. LAW VS. ETHICS 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 laws. ethics.
The first would be an action that is both legal and ethical. Anexample 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 purposes. 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. ETHICAL DUTIES Nurses have many ethical duties to their clients. The main ethical duties are: non maleficence, beneficence, fidelity, veracity, and justice. The duty of 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.
... the organizations that they work in (American Nurses Association, 2014). The nurse has a legal duty to assist justice as far as possible ... and collective action (Blais & Hayes, 2011, p. 59). Given the above ethical codes the nurse failed to uphold and follow ethical practice ... Hayes, 2011, pg. 60). The ethical ideals of each nurse must be weighed with the laws of the state along with providing ...
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 non maleficence or at the positive end of the non maleficence> 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 against information disclosure is that the disclosure of bad news may shatter the patient’s hope. Those in favor of information disclosure state that its 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).
Anexample in which a question of distributive justice may arise is when there is 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 bethe process in which people are eligible to receive organ transplants, the sickest patients are at the top of the list.
Ethical theories and principles help the medical community make moral decisions in difficult situations. However, each person has a different set of morals they abide by, including the varying ethical theories and principles. In this paper, I will discuss what theories I agree and disagree with concerning my moral framework, along with explaining what principles I think are most important. ...
ETHICAL RIGHTS There are three ethical rights that are relevant to health care. These rights are: the right to life, autonomy, and health care. Most people think of antiabortion activists when they hear the phrase ‘right to life’. However, this right goes far beyond the boundaries of abortion. The idea of right to life has come from both religious and philosophical backgrounds. Many hot topics in ethics relate to the right to life.
These topics include euthanasia and the discontinuation of life support treatments. The right to autonomy is also referred to as the right of self-determination. This right allows for the patient to make their own decisions, such as: determining what course of treatment he may take for a disease, refusing treatment, or refusing medications. The right to health care requires that a society shall provide the funding, personnel, and facilities necessary to ensure that individuals have access to necessary healthcare.
Health care for everyone also relates to distributive justice. The question being asked today is shall we take what health care resources we have and spread it very thin but so that everyone has equal access of care, or shall we take what resources we have any distribute them in such a way that we will do the most good to for the overall population? American Nursing Association (ANA) Code of Ethics In 1985, the ANA established a Code of Ethics for nurses that contains eleven points. Each of the eleven points is a general principle rather than specific guidelines. For instance, a nurse faced with an ethical dilemma involving resuscitation will find no mention of resuscitation in the Code of Ethics.
The ANA has stated that the Code of Ethics is not open to negotiation, they are also currently in the process of updating the Code of Ethics. In this section, each of the eleven points will be stated and discussed. (1) ‘The nurse provides services with respect for human dignity and the uniqueness of the client unrestricted by considerations of social or economical status, personal attributes, or the nature of the health problem.’ According to this statement, a nurse can not refuse to care for someone because they may be homosexual, black, have AIDS, had an abortion, etc. If the nurse has strong ethical views of her own, she may ask for a reassignment.
The basic rights of human beings, such as concern for personal dignity, are always of great importance. During illness, however, these rights are extremely vital and must be protected. Therefore, healthcare providers should make an effort to assure that these rights are preserved for their patients. Likewise, health care providers have the right to expect reasonable and responsible behavior on the ...
However, if the supervisor refuses to reassign or a reassignment is not possible, the nurse can not refuse care to that patient and must give the same standard of care to that patient as she would any other patient. (2) ‘The nurse safeguards the client’s right to privacy by judiciously protecting information of a confidential nature.’ This statement talks about the importance of confidentiality and privacy. The underlying ethical principles are autonomy and fidelity. The patient has a right to maintain control over his personal information.
Fidelity deals with being faithful to one’s agreements, i. e. just by being a nurse the nurse has agreed to abide by the ANA Code of Ethics and therefore has a duty to not sway from it. In the next section isa real life case study about how a nurse with a special interest in ethics dealt with an ethical dilemma about HIV and confidentiality in a prominent Philadelphia hospital. ‘The nurse’s ethical belief in the patient’s right to maintain autonomy must outweigh the temptation to gossip’ (Nurse’s Handbookof Law & Ethics, 1992).
(3) ‘The nurse must safeguard the client and public when health care and safety are affected by the incompetent, unethical, or illegal practice of any person.’ Under this ethical statement a nurse has the duty to report cases of child abuse, domestic abuse, or any act of negligence or incompetence by another health care worker. Often times, it is hard fora nurse to determine whether or not ‘whistle blowing’ on a colleague is warranted. There is a systematic approach (Nurse’s Handbook of Law & Ethics, 1992) to help determine whether or not to report on a colleague, and if so, how to do so in an ethical manner. The nurse should begin by gathering all the facts.
Document why you feel that whistle blowing may be warranted and the incidents in which they occurred. Avoid making any statements that may be considered personal. Next, state the problem. Again, avoid making any personal statements and consider any possible causative factors. It may help to enlist the help of a trusted colleague to review the problem with. Thirdly, identify your objectives.
Patient confidentiality is a fundamental practice in healthcare and it is integral part of healthcare ethical standards (Purtilo & Dougherty, 2010). According to the American Nurses Association (ANA) code of ethics “the nurse has a duty to maintain confidentiality of all patient information” (Nursing world, p.6). Also, when a patient confidentiality is violated the nurse may risk their safety ...
In other words, your purposes for wanting to confront the problem. If you feel that whistle blowing is warranted proceed to the last step which is to confront the problem. When confronting the problem, be direct but non-threatening. (4) ‘The nurse assumes accountability and responsibility for individual nursing judgments and actions.’ If a nurse makes a medication error, not only does he have a legal obligation to report that error, but according to the above statement, he has an ethical obligation as well. (5) ‘The nurse maintains competence in nursing.’ This statement can be applied to many different things. For example, if you as a nurse are unsure about doing a procedure, asks someone who is more familiar with the procedure to guide you through it.
Also, a nurse has the ethical obligation to never stop learning. The field of nursing keeps developing with the technology. Therefore, each nurse shall continue his other education by attending in services, seminars, or earning ‘X’ amount of continuing education points per year. (6) ‘The nurse exercises informed judgment and uses individual competence and qualification as criteria in seeking consultation, accepting responsibilities, and delegating nursing activities to others.’ In a nutshell, a nurse needs to know his scope of practice within the state in which he works. Nurses can not handle all situations and they need to understand when it is appropriate to consult with a psychiatrist, social worker, or a physician about a patient’s condition. On the opposite ends a nurse needs to understand which tasks she can delegate and to whom.
For instance, in NYS, an RN would not delegate the responsibility of assessing a patient to an LPN because RNs are the only ones that may legally make an initial assessment. (7) ‘The nurse participates in activities that contribute to the ongoing development of the profession’s body of knowledge.’ When some people first read this statement, they may think that it is in regards to being involved in professional organizations. I too first thought this but upon further thought, I believe that this statement refers to being involved in nursing research. The most obvious way to be involved is to conduct your own nursing research. However, for many nurses, this may not seem feasible. There are other ways to be involved with nursing research besides actively conducting it.
Nurse-to-Patient Ratios The healthcare in United States deals with many internal issues that the general public used to be unaware of, until recent times. Still, upon seeing nurses going on strike, most of the people conclude that it has only to do with their demands of better wages and additional social benefits, while in fact, this matter is much more complicated. Majority of nurses demand that ...
Nurses can greatly contribute to the profession’s knowledge by reading nursing journals and implementing the findings or interventions that are shown to be positive to the patient or the profession. (8) ‘Thenurse participates in the profession’s efforts to implement and improve standards of nursing.’ It is under this statement where being involved in professional organizations, such as the ANA and NY SNA, comes in. Another way to participate in improving nursing as a profession is to become politically involved. Nurse can become politically involved by attending town or state meetings and voicing their concerns, lobbying for bills at both the state and federal level, and by writing to their state and federal congressmen about issues that concern them and bills that are up for vote. A nurse can find out about political issues by being attuned to the world around them, being active in their state nursing association, and even by contacting the ANA itself. On their web page, the ANA has a section called ‘Capitol Watch’ which discusses current issues of importance and how to contact your government representatives.
(9) ‘Thenurse participates in the profession’s efforts to establish and maintain conditions of employment conducive to high quality nursing care.’ Nurse’s have an ethical obligation to keep their work places safe, not only for the patients, but for themselves so that they will have the staffing and equipment to perform quality nursing care. (10) ‘The nurse participates in the profession’s efforts to protect the public from misinformation and misrepresentation and to maintain the integrity of nursing.’ This statement speaks of the importance of patient education. Teaching is a very big part of a nurses role. Patient advocacy would fit under this statement as well as informed consent. In a study done by Deborah Tap lin (Hunt, 1994), twenty-three males that had undergone a TURN and eighteen females that had undergone a D&C were interviewed about how much information they knew about their procedure from the informed consent. Deborah found the following results: (1) 56% of the men did not know exactly what the operation was.
One suggested approach to ensure safe and effective patient care has been to mandate nurse staffing ratios. In 1999 California became the first state to mandate minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals. California is not the only state to enact minimum nurse staffing ratios for hospitals, over the past four years at least eighteen other states have considered legislation regarding nurse ...
(2) 21% of the men thought that their prostate was removed. (3) The women responded vaguely about the D&C and procedures. (4) 15% of all those interviewed did not know what a consent form was for. (5) 61% of the men and 66% of the women stated that there were no other treatment options. (6) 56% of the men and 39% of the woman stated that there were no risks involved in the procedure. (7) None of the subjects mentioned the major risks of the treatments and only two subjects mentioned anesthetic risks.
(8) Only 17% of the men and 61% of the women actually read the consent form. This study concludes that nurses can not assume that a patient has fully consented to a procedure just because the consent form is signed. As the patients’ advocates, nurses should take the initiative to go over the consent form with their patients even after it is signed. Many patients feel more comfortable asking questions to a nurse than a physician. (11) ‘The nurse collaborates with members of the health profession and other citizens in promoting community and national efforts to meet the health needs of the public.’ A REAL LIFE ETHICAL DILEMMA Sally Johnson RN, MS is a nurse in a substance abuse center at a prominent Philadelphia hospital. Sally has been active with her hospital’s ethical committee for the past four years.
Sally shared with me an ethical dilemma that she faced that stands out in her mind. It happened a number of years ago at a independent substance abuse treatment center before her involvement with the ethical committee at the hospital in which she now works. Here is her experience in her own words: ‘Only once did I take a very direct (and in PA illegal) controversial course of action. In this case, the patient was an active prostitute addicted to IV heroin. She already conceived and delivered three HIV infected babies and had no compunction to stop any of her behavior.
In fact, she would tell me, ‘I plan to take as many of those SOBs with me as I can… I’m spreading the wealth to as many people as possible and as often as possible!’ I didn anonymous disclosure to the appropriate division of our local public health department. I slept better that night for doing so.’ Sally also discussed hospital ethics committees with me. There are many functions of an ethics committee. These functions include: policy development, education, case consultation, addressing a single issue and addressing issues pertinent to a specific population. Sally’s committee is devised of 1/3 physicians.
1/3 nurses, and 1/3 clergy, social workers, or other health professionals. Because nurses work so closely with patients, they are often the first to identify a potential ethical dilemma. Ethical committees allow these nurses to voice their concerns and share with the other people of the committee potential ethical dilemmas in the hospital. NURSING LIABILITY AND LAWSUIT CAUSES Before 1932, nurses were expected to follow every doctors’ orders without question. In Byrd v. Marion General Hospital (1932), the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that nurses should follow doctors ” orders unless they were obviously negligent, in which case, a nurse can be found liable (Nurse’s Handbook of Law & Ethics, 1992).
After World War Two, nursing education and li censure requirements increased and tasks became more complex. This allowed nurses greater autonomy but also increased the risk of them being held liable for mistakes. The two major reasons for lawsuits against nurses are medication errors and falls (Nurse’s Handbook of Law &Ethics, 1992).
Other common reasons include: operating room errors (i. e. problems with a sponge count), mix-ups during patient transfers, communication breakdown between nurses and physicians, and inadequate observation of a patient.
AVOIDING MALPRACTICE LIABILITY According to the article, ‘Avoiding a Malpractice Nightmare ” in Nursing 90, there are twelve steps to avoiding malpractice liability. These steps are listed below. 1. Know your strengths and weaknesses 2. Evaluate your assignment 3. Delegate carefully 4.
Carry out orders cautiously 5. Administer medications carefully 6. Maintain a rapport with the patient 7. Watch what you say 8. Read before you sign 9. Document carefully and accurately 10.
Exercise caution when assisting with procedures 11. Follow hospital policies and procedures 12. Keep policies and procedures up to dateMALPRACTICEDEFENSES If a nurse is sued for malpractice, there are two common defenses that he or she can use: respond eat superior and borrowed servant (Nurse’s Handbookof Law & Ethics, 1992).
Respondent superior is Latin for ‘let the master answer’, it is also known as the ‘Theory of Vicarious Liability.’ This theory states that if a nurse is found negligent doing something under her supervisor’s direction, then that nurse should not have to bear the brunt of the damages. This theory can be used as a defense for all occupations, not just healthcare. The borrowed servant theory is also known as the ‘Captain of the Ship ” doctrine.
This defense is still used but less often than in the past. This defense may be used when a nurse commits a negligent act under the direct supervision of someone else (i. e. assisting in a procedure at the emergency department).
Res ipsa loquitur allows for the plaintiff to prove negligence with circumstantial evidence. This is useful when the defendant may be the only one who has knowledge about the patient’s injury. It is Latin for, ‘The thing speaks for itself’. Normally in court, the plaintiff has the responsibility to prove to the court that the defendant was negligent. When res ip sa loquitur is applied, the responsibility shifts to the defendant and he or she must prove that the injury was caused by some other reason than his or her negligence.
One of the most common cases where res ip sa loquitur is applied is in cases where a foreign object (i. e. sponge) was left in the body after surgery. SUMMARY Facing legal and ethical issues during one’s nursing career may be as common as taking vital signs. Often times, there’s not just one right course of action to take. The ANA Code of Ethics are guidelines to help a nurse determine which course of action to take.
Many times, an ethical decision may be made that holds to one of the guidelines but may infringe on another or the action may be ethical but not legal (or vice versa).
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Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corporation. Catalano, J. T.
Contemporary professional nursing. Philadelphia: F. A. Davis Company. Hunt, G.
Ethical issues in nursing.
London: Routledge. Lancome, D. C. (1990).
Avoiding a malpractice nightmare.
Nursing 90, 20 (6), 42-43. Purtilo, R. (1993).
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