Ethics and it’s many shades of grey

I think we have all encountered a situation where we had to question whether or not a behaviour or action was within the ethical boundaries we are bound by. We then had to figure out whether we were using our own personal determination of right/wrong rather than what has been mandated for us and if there is more than one profession involved, is this course of action mandated  by their professional body?

As we are leaning through our ethical dilemma assignment, not everything has a right or wrong answer. We are using our own belief system/moral code as a justification for our actions and/or decisions. But how do we know if our decisions are the correct course of action? Are we responsible for the consequences of these decisions? How do we know? Should we know?

As a nurse, we are taught that being ethical was next to godliness and above all else, should we break our ethical code, we had dissolved nursing to it’s basest form of ugliness. In nursing we have two main guiding bodies – the provincial regulatory body and our national body that helps to guide the provinces and their mandates. These two nursing bodies very clearly outline for us what is expected in ways of behaviour, decision making and the consequences that may arise should these guiding principles not be adhered to. Our decisions and actions don’t just affect us, but our patients and their families to which we are honor bound to keep as our primary focus.

However, this does not necessarily make ethical decision making any simpler. These guiding principles work on the assumption that all nurses are inherently good people with good intentions to do good work but they have taken out the human factor of previous experience. We, at times, do things that are guided by conscience and our own intrinsic moral code and may not be reflective of what is expected of us by our governing bodies. Is this wrong? Perhaps. I believe it’s important to keep in mind accountability.  We need to remember that any decision we make, we need to be accountable for – we must own our decisions and any consequences that follow. For me this is how I try to guide my practice and any “questionable” issues that arise: Is it beneficial to my patient? Will it harm my patient? Why do I feel this is an issue – personal or professional? What am I willing to be accountable for? I find that by answering these questions can help guide my next course of action.

I’ve included resources that nurses can go to to see if they are facing an ethical dilemma or a moral one and how to navigate corresponding actions. I think it’s important to remember that it’s ok to question actions and decisions, it’s ok to not agree with those actions or decisions but we need to be able to do so in a way that promotes healthy dialogue and that the focus is ALWAYS what’s in the best interest of the patient and their family.


Canadian Nurses Association Code of Ethics:

College and Association of  Registered Nurses of Alberta – CARNA (formly AARN):

College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia:


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