Nursing ethics is an area of ethics which concerns the nursing profession. It shares many similarities with medical ethics, and both may be lumped under the umbrella of biomedical ethics, the field of ethics which surrounds the biomedical sciences. There are a number of professional journals of nursing ethics, along with organizations which discuss ethical issues which pertain to nursing. Professional organizations of nurses also usually set their own ethical standards, periodically revising them to meet changing ethical norms.
At the center of nursing ethics is the idea that nursing is a collaborative occupation, and that patients have the right to bodily autonomy as much as possible. Many ethical codes for nursing stress the human rights component, the need to obtain informed consent from patients whenever it is feasible to do so, and the need to center the patient's needs and desires when developing plans for patient care. “Caring, not curing,” is sometimes used to describe this, with the idea that the nurse cannot focus on medical treatments and ignore the needs of the patient.
As in other branches of biomedical ethics, nursing ethics stresses that nurses should do nothing which could actively inflict harm on a patient, whether it be physical or emotional harm. Nurses are also obliged to observe professional standards in their relationships with patients and other medical professionals with whom they interact. Many codes of nursing ethics specifically direct nurses to use respect and compassion in interactions with patients, and also encourage nurses to act as advocates for patients and communities.
It is not uncommon for a code of nursing ethics to indicate that nurses need to pursue professional development and continuing education, whether they are working in research, medical practice, product development, policy advising, or other capacities. This echoes licensing requirements, with continuing education being required to retain a nursing license in most regions of the world. An ethical code for nurses may also stress that nurses should be involved in attempts to improve health care, to make health care more accessible, and to raise the standard of living in their communities.
For professional nurses, adherence to a code of ethics is expected. Aside from providing standards of behavior which the nurse uses in practice, an indication that a nurse intends to conform with ethical standards is usually required to retain membership in professional organizations and to retain a nursing license. Failure to abide by nursing ethics can result in an ethics hearing and potential suspension, termination from a position, or revocation of a nursing license.