The ANA Code of Ethics currently emphasizes the word “patient” instead of the word “client” in referring to nursing care recipients. Do you agree with this change? Why or why not? Review the ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements given below:
In any work that serves the whole of the profession, choices of terminology must be made that are intelligible to the whole community, are as inclusive as possible, and yet remain as concise as possible. For the profession of nursing, the first such choice is the term patient versus client. The term patient has ancient roots in suffering; for millennia the term has also connoted one who undergoes medical treatment. Yet, not all who are recipients of nursing care are either suffering or receiving medical treatment The root of client implies one who listens, leans upon, or follows another. It connotes a more advisory relationship, often associated with consultation or business.
Thus, nursing serves both patients and clients. Additionally, the patients and clients can be individuals, families, communities, or populations. Recently, following a consumerist movement in the United States, some have preferred consumer to either patient or client. In this revision of the American Nurses Association’s (ANA’s) Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (the Code), as in the past revision, ANA decided to retain the more common, recognized, and historic term patient as representative of the category of all who are recipients of nursing care. Thus, the term patient refers to clients or consumers of health care as well as to individuals or groups.
A decision was also made about the words ethical and moral. Both are neutral and categorical. That is—similar to physical, financial, or historical—they refer to a category, a type of reflection, or a behavior. They do not connote a rightness or goodness of that behavior.
Within the field of ethics, a technical distinction is made between ethics and morality. Morality is used to refer to what would be called personal values, character, or conduct of individuals or groups within communities and societies. Ethics refers to the formal study of that morality from a wide range of perspectives including semantic, logical, analytic, epistemological, and normative. Thus, ethics is a branch of philosophy or theology in which one reflects on morality. For this reason, the study of ethics is often called moral philosophy or moral theology. Fundamentally, ethics is a theoretical and reflective domain of human knowledge that addresses issues and questions about morality in human choices, actions, character, and ends.
As a field of study, ethics is often divided into metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. Metaethics is the domain that studies the nature of ethics and moral reasoning. It would ask questions such as “Is there always an element of self-interest in moral behavior?”and “Why be good?” Normative ethics addresses the questions of the ought, the four fundamental terms of which are right and wrong, good and evil. That is, normative ethics addresses what is right and wrong in human action (what we ought to do); what is good and evil in human character (what we ought to be); and good or evil in the ends that we ought to seek.
Applied ethics wrestles with questions of right, wrong, good, and evil in a specific realm of human action, such as nursing, business, or law. It would ask questions such as “Is it ever morally right to deceive a research subject?”or “What is a ‘good nurse’ in a moral sense?” or “Are health, dignity, and well-being intrinsic or instrumental ends that nursing seeks?”All of these aspects of ethics are found in the nursing literature. However, the fundamental concern of a code of ethics for nursing is to provide normative, applied moral guidance for nurses in terms of what they ought to do, be, and seek.
Some terms used in ethics are ancient such as virtue and evil, yet they remain in common use today within the field of ethics. Other terms, such as ethics and morality, are often—even among professional ethicists—used imprecisely or interchangeably because they are commonly understood or because common linguistic use prevails. For example, one might speak of a person as lacking a “moral compass” or as having “low morals.” Another example is the broader public use of the term ethical. Ethics is a category that refers to ethical or nonethical behavior: either a behavior is relevant to the category of ethics, or it is not. Here, the term unethical has no meaning, although it is commonly used in lectures and discussions—even by professional ethicists—to mean morally blameworthy, that is, wrong. The terms should and must are often substituted for the more precise normative ethical term ought. Ought indicates a moral imperative. Must expresses an obligation, duty, necessity, or compulsion, although not an intrinsically moral one. Likewise, should expresses an obligation or expediency that is not necessarily a moral imperative.
The English language continues to evolve, and the once firm and clearly understood distinctions between may and can; will and shall; and ought, should, and must have faded in daily language and have come to be used interchangeably in both speech or writing, except in rare instances in which the nuance is essential to an argument. To aid the reader in understanding the terms used, this revision of ANA’s Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements will, for the first time, include a glossary of terms that are found within the Code.
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