Introduction to Professional Ethics

Study material for the master students

Ethical guidelines and assessment

There are many different sources for rules of ethical conduct in health care work. Legislation is the most obvious and binding one. In addition there are different kinds of ethical guidelines from professional associations, academic organisations and individual institutions. At the most practical level, there are rules and procedures of different workplaces and working teams. And surely workers’ personal moral stances cannot be disregarded either.

These different sources can sometimes be contradictory in complex or sensitive situations. Therefore, some skills of ethical assessment are very valuable for everyone working in health care. When difficulties in ethical matters occur, an optimal way of addressing them is a thorough discussion in the work community or team. If there is no consensus to be found, the matter should be handed over to upper level decision makers or to some external authority like a national ethical board or similar committee.

If the ethical codes or guidelines available are not helpful in solving the problem, the solution may be found by applying the most basic principles used in the ethical guidelines. They are typically as follows: 1) respecting the patient’s  or client’s autonomy, integrity and dignity; 2) respecting the patient’s or client’s rights and confidentiality; and 3) seeking to improve the patient’s or client’s condition if possible.

Below are some links to different formulations of ethical guidelines in nursing practice and some links to patient rights resources.

Ethical Guidelines

International Code of Ethics for Nurses
American Nursing Association Code of Ethics

Patient rights

WHO Patient’s Rights Resources
Medline Patient Rights
eMedicineHealth Patient Rights