Ethics addresses values and principles of human conduct. Ethical theories are used to determine the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ and ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of certain actions, motives, and consequences of actions. Ethical conduct is essential for excellent patient care and successful workplace relationships.
‘Transformation’ of America’s health care system has pushed ethics closer to the forefront. Health care legislation has inspired numerous moral questions relating to human rights, redistribution of resources, accessibility, health care financing, and other multifaceted social issues. Nursing is not immune to the surge of moral questions. Increased patient numbers and demands, escalating scrutiny and regulations, limited resources, e-monitoring, cultural diversity in the workforce, staffing and reimbursement concerns, and many other complex issues lead to multiple ethical controversies and ethical stress. Nurses must be prepared to respond to a flood of moral and ethical questions and dilemmas. Yet, what moral theories are most useful in resolving inevitable moral debates?
Some ethicists suggest traditional utilitarian and deontological approaches to ethical reasoning may be inadequate in light of present challenges. For example, Harris (2009) explained when “we subject an ethical problem to analysis using one theory, such as utilitarian theory, and then subject the same problem to analysis using another theory, we find that the two theories give different and incompatible results” (p. 51). Not only does this leave the problem unresolved, it implies both outcomes are morally equivalent.