An ethical dilemma is a debate between two alternatives, each of which is morally right. Many professional fields have standardized ethical codes that detail which things members of the profession are to prioritize when making ethical decisions. The American Nurses Association has such a code, but it does not overlap extensively with the field of bioethics.
Ethics in Nursing
Like many professional associations in the health care field, the American Nurses Association sets a formal, standardized code of ethics which nurses must follow. The code establishes six primary principles to help nurses resolve ethical dilemmas. These six principles define nurses' responsibilities as doing good, not doing harm, giving fair and equal care, respecting their patients' rights to make decisions, being honest and following through on their promises. The full code of ethics is an extension of these principles.
The field of bioethics addresses ethical issues that arise from modern medicine. Unlike the nurses' code of ethics, bioethics are largely still under discussion and are not determined by a nationally standardized document. Bioethical issues include such controversial topics as stem cell research, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, cloning and genetic modification. As medicine advances, new ethical dilemmas arise, and bioethics is the field of research and analysis addressing them. Questions addressing issues such as allocation of resources and whether doctors can force people to accept treatment also fall under the heading of bioethics.
While most nurses do face bioethical issues on a daily basis, ethics in nursing is a separate subject. Bioethics deals with unresolved dilemmas that affect the entire medical community, often created by new technologies or research ideas. Ethics in nursing deals primarily with individual, personal dilemmas that stem from situations between a caregiver and his patients. A nurse is much less likely to need to know whether it is ethical to genetically modify a fetus, and much more likely to have to choose between obeying her religious doctrine or the wishes of the patient.
Bioethics and ethics in nursing overlap primarily in the area of advocacy. Nurses are responsible to advocate for their patients, help their patients understand the options available to them and mediate the patients' discussions regarding their courses of treatment. Bioethical considerations are often deeply complex and upsetting. Nurses have the ethical responsibility to give their patients the best treatment they can, assuming the patients agree to it, and sometimes the best course of treatment is not obvious. Nurses therefore must understand the bioethical issues their patients face and attempt to guide their patients to the medically and ethically best options.