nurses and ethical dilemmas

Today’s health care environment gives nurses many reasons to be conflicted. Genetic testing, abortion, and end of life care are just some of the areas in which nurses may face ethical dilemmas. Consider how you feel about the following issues:


  • Respecting the wishes of a suffering client that he is permitted to die with dignity,
  • Respecting the health surrogate’s wishes regarding termination of life support,
  • Or even observing another nurse take two tablets of oxycodone as ordered but keeping one for herself.


Then give an example of an ethical dilemma you may have confronted in your own clinical experience or workplace. How did you come to the decision you made? What feelings did you experience while coming to that choice? (If you have not yet faced an ethical dilemma, research one and comment on it, answering the same questions.)

nurses and ethical dilemmas

The current healthcare environment is complex and demanding, presenting nurses with numerous ethical dilemmas. Some of the most contentious issues that nurses may face include genetic testing, abortion, and end-of-life care. These issues require nurses to navigate a delicate balance between respecting the rights of patients, adhering to professional standards, and honoring their own personal beliefs. In this essay, we will explore some of the ethical dilemmas that nurses may face in their daily practice, including the challenges of respecting patients’ wishes for end-of-life care, dealing with life support termination, and observing colleagues engaging in unethical behavior.

Respecting the wishes of a client who desires to die with dignity is a sensitive issue. As a nurse, it is critical to provide compassionate care to patients and honor their autonomy. When faced with end-of-life decisions, it is important to consider the patient’s beliefs and values, as well as any cultural or religious practices that may affect their decisions. However, nurses must also consider the ethical and legal implications of their actions. For instance, nurses who honor patients’ wishes for euthanasia in states where it is illegal may face criminal charges. In such situations, nurses must balance their commitment to compassionate care with their obligation to follow professional standards and legal requirements.

Similarly, respecting the wishes of a health surrogate regarding the termination of life support can also be challenging. In some cases, the surrogate may wish to continue life support despite the patient’s poor prognosis or advanced illness. In these situations, nurses must communicate with the surrogate and the healthcare team to ensure that the patient’s best interests are served. The nurse’s role is to advocate for the patient’s right to autonomy and informed decision-making, while also considering the ethical and legal implications of the surrogate’s wishes.

Observing another nurse take two tablets of oxycodone as ordered but keeping one for herself is an example of unethical behavior in healthcare. Nurses are responsible for adhering to professional standards and promoting patient safety. This requires nurses to report any instances of unethical behavior, including the diversion of medication. Reporting such behavior may be difficult, as it can lead to conflict and potential retaliation from colleagues. However, it is essential to prioritize patient safety and uphold professional standards, even when it is difficult or uncomfortable to do so.

In my clinical experience, I once faced an ethical dilemma when caring for a patient with a terminal illness. The patient had expressed a desire to die at home, surrounded by family, rather than in the hospital. However, the patient’s family was hesitant to provide the necessary care, which included administering medication for pain relief and providing emotional support. As the nurse, I had to balance the patient’s autonomy and wishes with the family’s concerns and beliefs. To resolve the issue, I facilitated communication between the patient, family, and healthcare team, ensuring that everyone had the information they needed to make informed decisions. Ultimately, the patient was able to die at home, as per their wishes, with the necessary care and support provided.

In conclusion, the healthcare environment is rife with ethical dilemmas that can be difficult for nurses to navigate. Nurses must balance their commitment to providing compassionate care with their obligation to follow professional standards and legal requirements. It is essential for nurses to prioritize patient safety and promote ethical behavior, even when it is difficult or uncomfortable to do so. By staying true to these values, nurses can ensure that they are providing the highest level of care to their patients.

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