Ethics in Action: Considering Provision 1 in the ANA’s Nursing Code of Ethics

Nurses today may find themselves in myriad situations with difficult choices to make. Fortunately, in addition to their own internal moral compass, there is the American Nurses Association’s (ANA) Code of Ethics on which to rely. This code provides all of those in the nursing profession with core ethical guidelines to follow.1

It’s important that nurses not only know the Code of Ethics, but reflect on them and consider situations your role may put you in where you’d need to call upon the Code. This way, when you need to make an ethical decision quickly, it’s second nature. Throughout their studies, Loyola New Orleans students have the opportunity to become well versed in the nuances of all nine provisions.

It all begins with Provision 1, which states: “The nurse, in all professional relationships, practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness of every individual, unrestricted by considerations of social or economic status, personal attributes, or the nature of health problems.”

Considering Provision 1

This provision centers on patients and on treating them with the utmost dignity and respect even when it is not easy to do so. Most nurses enter the profession with the best of intentions for helping all. But nurses are only human and there are some individuals to whom we respond more favorably than others. What Provision 1 requires of nurses is that they move beyond their emotions or biases and respond to the humanity of others as compassionately as possible, despite their own closely held beliefs.2

The principle here is that despite the patient’s circumstances, he or she is a human being who deserves to be treated with dignity. This may mean helping a homeless person who can’t possibly pay for his or her care and doing so without judgment. Or it can involve treating a drunk driver who has hit someone, even if the nurse caring for this patient suffered the loss of a loved one in a similar manner. The driver’s humanity must be valued.

Vexing Scenario

That said, consider the following scenario: Mr. Cornwall is 85 years old and is in the hospital with a broken hip. While he is reasonably pleasant to some of the staff, to others he is rude and on occasion has hurled epithets. His wife died a decade earlier and he has no family. He has just one friend who occasionally visits. Since his injury, he has also all but given up on eating, even though there is no medical reason for this to be an issue. While some staff members continue to do their best to coax Mr. Cornwall to eat, assisting him to find something on the hospital menu that appeals to him, others have thrown up their hands, bringing him whatever they please and continuing to take away full trays at the end of mealtime. In keeping with Provision 1, what should the nurses do here? As long as they bring him something to eat, are they meeting their ethical obligations? How would you handle this situation if Mr. Cornwall were your patient?

In the Loyola University New Orleans School of Nursing degree programs, students have the opportunity to consider such scenarios. As part of their coursework, they study legal and ethical issues in the health care industry, with an emphasis on dealing with the practical dilemmas that they may one day face.

If you are interested in earning an online nursing degree from Loyola University New Orleans, contact the admissions office.