Integral Ethical Principles of Nursing and Healthcare

Florence Nightingale at Scutari Hospital, 1856
Crimean War; Florence Nightingale at Scutari Hospital, 1856. Wikipedia.

The foundations of nursing as a proper profession were laid in the 19th century with the establishment of a nursing school in England by Florence Nightingale. At the turn of the century, the code of ethics in nursing began paving a clear way for the profession. These ethical principles of nursing and healthcare describe the expectations from nursing.

The integral ethical principles of nursing illustrate the safe and effective practices and approach towards challenges and behavioral aspects of nursing.

Following are the nursing and healthcare principles that require strict adherence.

Respect for Patient Autonomy

Patients have the liberty to take an autonomous decision regarding their treatment. They can either give their consent or refuse to undergo medical procedures. Even if the nurses and the patients do not see eye to eye on the subject matter, the patient’s right of self-determination is respected. According to this key ethical principle of nursing, another competent individual is granted power of attorney only if the afflicted person in not in a condition to take decisions on his/her own.


The patients ought to be treated with social justice – fairly and equally in every manner. This principle is utilized by nurses daily. They have to evaluate the time that they can spend with a single patient, how to divide the resources fairly, and whom to give immediate or priority treatment.


Paternalism in health care and nursing means that for the person’s own good, certain information can be withheld from either the patient or the family for better prognosis and diagnosis. The ethical principle of paternalism is beneficial in a situation where the patient might overreact and end up committing suicide upon listening to the diagnosis.

Non-malfeasance and Beneficence

The ethical principle of non-malfeasance means that no harm shall be brought upon the patient’s deliberately. Beneficence means the goodness is made prevalent, that is, healthcare benefits are provided to the clients through best practices and the risks are balanced by the welfare and benefits.

Totality and Integrity of an Individual

The person should be considered as a single entity, that is, whenever medical procedures, therapies and medications are being decided, the patient ought to be taken into consideration. This implies that whenever therapeutic procedures have the tendency to cause harm to the patient or cause disagreeable side-effects, it is imperative that the benefits justify proportionally the advantages of the medical treatment.


The ethical principle of fidelity in the nursing and healthcare domain is closely related to caring and commitment to the patients. This means that the healthcare professionals are loyal, fair, and dedicated to the welfare of the patients. To understand the fidelity principle, take the example of an individual who is dying. The patient might ask the nurse to keep the news away from the loved ones because they are emotional and would go to every extent to keep the patient alive, even if it takes a perennial mechanical ventilation. The nurse has to abide by the promise and support the family as well.