October 16, 2009
NURSING ETHICS – LECTURE 5
I – Ethical Theories
• We have begun the course with an examination of ethical theories.
• An ethical or moral theory supplies us with norms, principles, or
standards to govern the moral propriety of actions.
• We can then apply these theories and some concepts to issues that
arise in healthcare ethics.
• This enterprise is called ‘applied ethics’.
• Today we begin the section of the course that involves mostly applied
II – Confidentiality
• Today we will be looking at the concept of confidentiality.
• Confidentiality is obviously an important principle guiding the
provision of healthcare, one that is relevant for nurses, doctors, and all
other healthcare providers.
• Support for the principle of confidentiality is found in codes and oaths
of nursing and medicine dating back many centuries.
• Nursing codes of ethics require that nurses maintain confidentiality of
patient information, all things being equal.
• The principle of confidentiality for nurses: Nurses should hold in
confidence personal information and use judgment in sharing this
• Why might it be important for nurses and other healthcare
professionals to abide by the principle of confidentiality?
• The main reasons seem to have to do with (i) autonomy, (ii) dignity,
and (iii) privacy (consider the (Kantian) deontological grounding of
(i) It is important that healthcare practioners treat patients as autonomous,
independent individuals with intrinsic value.
-Patients are their own people with their own sets of values and
(ii) To indiscriminately reveal information about one’s patients to others
can violate these values and interests.
-It can thereby cause a patient to lose his or her dignity.
(iii) Also, one value that many patients hold dear is privacy.
-It is important to many individuals that certain information about
them medical or non-medical be kept private.
-Why might this be so?
-There are a variety of reasons.
-They include the following: potential embarrassment, being socially
ostracized, losing one’s job, losing one’s rights, disturbing familial of
non-familial relations, etc.
E.G.: Patients with HIV or AIDS.
-They might be discriminated against if this status is revealed.
E.G.: Patients with some type of mental illness.
-They might not be able to secure certain jobs if this information is