The nature of the nursing profession requires nurses to make numerous decisions based on careful consideration of laws and ethical standards. Taking into consideration that nurses are confronted with dozens of ethical challenges in their practice daily they have to be familiar with the codes of ethics outlining how they should behave ethically as professionals. However, when ethics and the law come together, a conflict might arise. This paper aims to explore the conflicts between ethics and the law in nursing and how they influence professional practice.
Technological progress has allowed modern health care to promote the longevity of patients with severe conditions and disabilities, support birth, and sustain life (Tingle & Cribb, 2013). Even though advances in technology have substantially increased the quality of care and expanded medical horizons, they often come with a set of dilemmas that have to be resolved within legal and ethical frameworks of nursing practice. It can be argued that end-of-life (EOL) care and the cases when patients are unable to make decisions on their behalf are associated with the most commonly debated conflicts between ethics and the law in nursing (Tingle & Cribb, 2013). The question of termination of someone’s life is perhaps the most controversial one. Without a doubt, advanced directives, living wills, and DNR orders have made the process of reconciliation of the law with the code of nursing ethics much easier, thereby eliminating a significant amount of frustration and moral distress that is associated with ethical dilemmas.
Nurses not only have to always envision the results of their actions while aiming to achieve what is best for their patients but also predict their future needs (Tingle & Cribb, 2013). Therefore, health care professionals have to engage in direct communication with patients and their family members. Even though laws on EOL care are clear, they substantially differ from state to state. Nurses should be aware of the legal frameworks of their states that determine their ability to act on behalf of their patients. Moreover, they need to recognize the right of their patients for self-determination while resolving ethical dilemmas.
To be able to act as advocates for their patients, health care professionals should have sufficient knowledge of the legal language as well as understanding how it can affect their practice (Tingle & Cribb, 2013). While solving conflicts between the law and ethics, nurses have to remember that “no state law may be in contradiction to constitutional law” (Tingle & Cribb, 2013, p. 121). Therefore, ethical and legal dimensions of nursing practice are guided by federal and state laws and regulations as well as the ANA Code of Ethics (Avery, 2016). In a case when a nurse practitioner gets involved in a lawsuit, the judicial system will try to determine whether they followed the professional code of ethics. If it is determined that there was a breach of ethical principles the professional’s practice will be considered substandard (Avery, 2016).
Nurses have to be cognizant of ethical and legal dimensions affecting the process of decision making. Their practice has to be guided by federal and state laws and regulations as well as the professional code of ethics. While solving complex issues and ethical dilemmas regarding the health and wellbeing of their patients, nurses cannot only be guided by the suggestions of legal experts. Instead, they have to engage in collegial discussions of ethical principles and moral reasons behind each controversial question.
Avery, G. (2016). Law and ethics in nursing and healthcare: An introduction. Washington, WA: SAGE.
Tingle, J., & Cribb, A. (2013). Nursing law and ethics. New York, NY: Wiley-Blackwell.