Ethical and Legal Principles in Nursing

Ethical and Legal Principles in Nursing

Introduction: The field of nursing is guided by ethical and legal principles that shape the actions and strategies of nurses in delivering patient care. This blog focuses on the significance of these principles in nursing, physical therapy, and nursing education.

Legal and Ethical Principles in Nursing:

1. Autonomy:

Autonomy refers to recognizing the rights of individuals to make decisions about their healthcare. Patients must be informed about their condition, treatment options, benefits, and risks. Even if a nurse disagrees with a patient’s decision, it’s essential to respect their autonomy, considering factors like health, culture, gender, and age.

2. Justice:

The principle of justice requires nurses to provide fair treatment to all patients, regardless of religion, socioeconomic status, race, or gender. Impartial medical care, such as that offered in screening clinics, ensures better patient outcomes.

3. Beneficence:

Beneficence mandates that nurses act in the best interest of their patients, putting aside personal feelings. Individualized care, considering patients’ opinions and circumstances, helps achieve optimal results and protect the rights of others.

4. Non-maleficence:

Nurses must avoid causing harm to their patients and take precautions to prevent any harm during healthcare procedures. This principle is particularly important in end-of-life decisions and pain management.

5. Accountability:

Nurses are accountable for their actions while caring for patients, accepting both personal and professional consequences. This fosters the provision of quality patient care and the development of positive patient-nurse relationships.

6. Fidelity:

Fidelity requires nurses to be loyal and committed to their patients, building trust and fulfilling their responsibilities. However, conflicts may arise when commitments do not lead to the best outcome for the patient. Additionally, fidelity involves maintaining confidentiality and respecting patients’ privacy.

7. Veracity:

Nurses must be honest and open with their patients, even if the information may be distressing. Transparency strengthens the patient-nurse relationship and enables patients to make informed decisions.

Legal Framework and Ethical Principles in Nursing:

Nursing law establishes legal boundaries for independent nursing actions, sets standards, and differentiates nursing duties from those of other healthcare practitioners. Legal actions can be taken when nurses fail to maintain the required standards, such as touching a patient after refusal, leading to assault, tort, or battery. Informed consent is crucial, and any harm caused during patient care is against the law.

Legal and Ethical Principles in Nursing PT Information:

Physical therapists, following the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) practices, aim to provide the best patient care. They should bill patients according to Medicaid services methodology, regardless of their ability to pay. Ethical nursing practice involves a caring response, moral commitment, and adherence to professional behavior.

Ethical and Legal Principles in Nursing Education:

The National League for Nursing (NLN) addresses ethical issues in nursing education, such as violence, privacy, and dishonesty. Ethical practice in nursing education encompasses integrity, diversity, excellence, and caring. Nurse educators should respect and care for students, promoting a culture of innovation and research.

Legal and Ethical Issues in Nursing:

Nurses encounter ethical dilemmas while delivering patient care, including situations where patients refuse treatment based on personal or cultural beliefs, experience discomfort with treatment, or face life-or-death decisions. Many legal and ethical issues in nursing can have severe consequences, such as loss of licensure, termination of employment, or even legal action. The following are some of the prominent legal and ethical issues in nursing:

1. Negligence:

Negligence refers to carelessness or deviating from the standard patient care practices, whether intentional or unintentional. Nurses may be held liable for negligence if it leads to serious errors, such as administering the wrong medication or failing to communicate crucial information.

2. Defamation:

Defamation involves making false statements about a patient that can harm their reputation, such as spreading untrue claims about a patient on social media.

3. Confidentiality:

Nurses are bound by the code of ethics to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of a patient’s health records. Disclosing patient information to unauthorized individuals can lead to legal consequences.

4. Battery:

Battery occurs when nurses engage in physical contact or harassment with patients without their knowledge or consent. Nurses should always seek permission from patients before any physical contact, and they must respect the patients’ right to refuse treatment or physical contact.

5. Mandatory Reporting:

Nurse practitioners have both a legal and moral duty to report neglect, abuse, epidemics, infectious diseases, and any unsafe practices by colleagues that could harm patients.

6. Informed Consent:

Before performing any medical procedure, nurses must obtain full consent from the patient. Patients should be fully informed about the benefits and risks of the procedure or treatment. If the patient is unable to comprehend the implications, the nurse should inform the patient’s close family, who can provide consent on their behalf.

7. Patients’ Beliefs:

Before conducting any medical procedure, nurses should be sensitive to a patient’s religious and cultural beliefs. The nurse must communicate the relevant procedure and make adjustments if it conflicts with the patient’s religious or cultural values.

Ethical Decision-Making in Nursing:

Nurses face ethical dilemmas in healthcare, necessitating strong decision-making skills. The advancement of medical technology has contributed to more complex challenges. Ethical decision-making is the framework that guides nurses in making choices while evaluating the potential impacts of their actions.

By adhering to ethical principles, nurses can ensure compassionate and safe patient care. Understanding ethical principles, codes of ethics, legal obligations, and nursing laws is crucial for effective nursing practice. For instance, supporting a patient who chooses to discontinue cancer treatment and opt for hospice care demonstrates a nurse’s commitment to the code of ethics in nursing.


Legal and ethical principles play a vital role in guiding nurses in their decision-making processes while providing patient care. Issues such as patients’ refusal of treatment and life-or-death decisions require careful consideration within the boundaries of ethical principles, laws, and legal obligations. Understanding these underlying principles is essential for nursing practice and patient well-being.