Ethical principles can help the healthcare professional make consistent and well-reasoned ethical decisions even in difficult ethical dilemmas. Although ethical principles abound, in this module we will focus on four central principles often applied in the healthcare setting – beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice.Beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice … quite the smorgasbord of ethical principles! Although many ethical principles can be applied to help the healthcare professional in making an ethical decision, these four principles are central to decision-making in the healthcare setting. Let’s unpack each of these in turn.Beneficence is “a moral obligation to act for the benefit of others”Nonmaleficence is “an obligation not to inflict harm on others”Autonomy “obliges us to respect the decisions (self-determination) of adults who have decision-making capacity”Justice “obliges us to equitably distribute benefits, risks, costs, and resources” (Jahn, 2011)Understanding these principles, let alone applying them, can be a process in and of itself. Let’s begin with beneficence. How is it determined what is a benefit for another? After all, what one individual considers to be a benefit may not be considered to be a benefit for another individual. Depending on the perspective of those involved in an ethical dilemma, who are often classified as stakeholders, how these principles are understood and applied may differ.
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Ethical principles are essential for healthcare professionals as they provide a framework for making consistent and well-reasoned ethical decisions, even in challenging situations. In the healthcare setting, four central ethical principles are often applied: beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice. These principles guide the decision-making process and help ensure ethical conduct in patient care.
Beneficence is the ethical principle that mandates healthcare professionals to act in a manner that benefits others. It is a moral obligation to promote the well-being and welfare of patients. When making decisions, healthcare professionals consider the potential benefits of their actions and strive to maximize positive outcomes for their patients.
Nonmaleficence, on the other hand, is the principle that requires healthcare professionals to do no harm. It emphasizes the importance of avoiding actions that may cause harm or increase the risk of harm to patients. While striving for the best possible outcomes, healthcare professionals must also consider the potential risks and complications associated with their interventions.
Autonomy is the ethical principle that obliges healthcare professionals to respect the right of individuals to make their own decisions, particularly adults with decision-making capacity. It recognizes the importance of patient autonomy and self-determination. Healthcare professionals respect patients’ preferences, values, and choices, and involve them in the decision-making process to the greatest extent possible.
Justice is the principle that calls for the fair and equitable distribution of benefits, risks, costs, and resources in healthcare. It emphasizes that all individuals should have equal access to quality care and should be treated without discrimination. Healthcare professionals strive to ensure fairness in allocating resources and delivering healthcare services, taking into account factors such as need, equity, and impartiality.
Applying these principles in practice can be complex, as different stakeholders may have varying perspectives on what constitutes a benefit and how these principles should be understood and applied. However, by considering the principles of beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice, healthcare professionals can navigate ethical dilemmas and make decisions that promote the overall well-being of their patients while upholding ethical standards in the field of healthcare.