Ethical Basis of Intervention
In a nutshell, ethics is, "concerned with the promotion of the high standards of conduct by which the public rightly expects health care practitioners to abide" (Courtenay and Griffiths, 2004). Ethics is to do with codes of behaviour based on a system of moral beliefs about right and wrong. This is usually applied in accordance with the principles of professional conduct. Healthcare ethics has its roots in moral philosophy and is concerned with the character and conduct of individuals in the pursuance of good practice.
Non-maleficence and beneficence
Non-maleficence could be considered as the oldest principle applied to humankind, coming as it does from the maxim primum non nocere - above all, do no harm (Beauchamp and Childress, 1989).
Beneficence is the principle of promoting or benefiting the good of/for the individual (Singleton and McLaren, 1995) and is considered to be central to nursing philosophy, application and care.
Autonomy and paternalism
Nurses have a duty to respect an individual's autonomy. This is defined as the right to self-government or the freedom to determine one's own actions and behaviours. As there must be some social, cultural and legal limits to complete autonomy, Beauchamp and Childress (1989) suggest that 'autonomy should be respected in so far as it does not interfere with the autonomy of another'.
Sometimes professionals justify actions or inactions in healthcare by citing the 'doctor/nurse knows best' doctrine. This may be a subconscious mechanism to further the aim of the professional by overriding the patient's or client's autonomy. Justification may be sought on the premise that 'it is in the patient's best interest'. This culture of paternalism is not considered to be an ethical principle to apply, as it denies patients' autonomy.