Principle of Beneficence in Ethics & Nursing: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What is Beneficence?
  • 1:03 How Do Nurses Use Beneficence?
  • 2:10 Code of Ethics
  • 2:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jenna Liphart

Jenna teaches undergraduate nursing courses and has a master's degree in nursing education.

If you are entering the nursing field, it is important to understand the ethical principles involved. Check out what beneficence is and the ways in which nurses use the principle in relation to patient care.

What is Beneficence?

Hearing about medical or nursing ethics in the health care field is as easy as listening to the radio or turning on the news. There are constantly ethical issues arising in health care due to the sensitive nature of working with people's lives. Have you ever wondered how nurses or other health care providers make difficult decisions regarding their patients' lives? Each health care provider abides by a code of ethics that regulates his or her behavior. Ethics relates to moral principles and actions.

Beneficence is an ethical principle that addresses the idea that a nurse's actions should promote good. Doing good is thought of as doing what is best for the patient. Beneficence should not be confused with the closely related ethical principle of nonmaleficence, which states that one should not do harm to patients. This principle acts as an obligation for nurses to protect their patients from harm by removing and preventing bad situations and promoting good ones.

How Do Nurses Use Beneficence?

Nurses generally see patients as a whole and think in terms of long-term outcomes for patients. Since beneficence is centered on doing good for the patient, the difficulty with this principle often lies in defining what good means to the patient. To some patients, good would be allowing them to die, while to others it would be prompting a patient to undergo a difficult procedure in order to prolong and better their life. Before acting with beneficence in mind, nurses must consider the patient's wants and needs for their best life.

Nurses need to be careful that in their haste to take care of a patient, that they do not insert what they perceive to be the most good for what the patient would perceive to be the most good. For example, a patient wishes to withdraw cancer treatment because he feels his quality of life is more important than living longer. For this patient, it would be practicing beneficence for the nurse to advocate for the patient and arrange for cancer treatment to be stopped. Even if the nurse wants the patient's treatment to continue, she must put the patient's idea of a good life ahead of her own.

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