A code of ethics is a guide for an individual or group to follow in making decisions regarding ethical issues.
In the broadest sense, ethics are the principles that guide an individual, group, or profession in conduct. Although nurses do make independent decisions regarding patient care, they are still responsible to the profession as a whole in how those decisions are made. From the earliest concept of nursing, the proper behavior and conduct of a nurse was closely scrutinized. Florence Nightingale wrote of specific issues of conduct and moral behavior. The Nightingale pledge that was composed in 1893 by nursing instructor Lystra Gretter includes the vow "to abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug."
Over the last 100 years, nursing has evolved into a very complex professional field. Nurses are now faced with life and death decisions, sometimes on an hourly basis. Medical care has advanced to the point that new technology with its potential benefit or harm to a patient changes constantly. Although the private conduct of a nurse is no longer controlled by the employer, the effects of that lifestyle on the nurse's ability to think and respond to patients while on duty falls under the code of ethics.
The study of ethics is actually a branch of philosphy. The word ethics is derived from the Greek term ethos which means customs, habitual usage, conduct, and character. The study of ethics has led to the identification of basic concepts including rights, autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice, and fidelity. Understanding these concepts assists the nurse with making decisions during difficult situations.
Webster defines a right as "something to which one has a just claim or the power or priviledge to which one is justly entitled." Patient rights have evolved to the point...