The International Council of Nurses unveiled an updated Code of Ethics for Nurses on International Ethics Day, October 20, in response to the profound challenges and ethical quandaries that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the forefront. A prominent addition to this revision is the new section dedicated to Nurses and Global Health.
Purpose of the ICN Code of Ethics for Nurses
Since its initial adoption in 1953, the ICN Code of Nursing Ethics has served as a global compass for nursing practice. Regular revisions have been made over the years to reflect changes in nursing roles, healthcare, and societal evolution.
This Code represents a set of professional values, duties, and responsibilities that guide ethical nursing practice. It offers a framework for resolving ethical dilemmas encountered by nurses, irrespective of their specific role or practice setting. Moreover, the Code establishes a foundational framework that can be further developed upon by the legal framework, regulations, and professional standards governing nursing practice in individual countries.
The process of reviewing the 2021 ICN Code of Ethics for Nurses commenced in 2019, spearheaded by an Expert Steering Group, ICN Board members representing all ICN member nations, and ICN Staff. The document is available not only in English but also in Spanish, French, and German.
Changes to the ICN Code of Ethics for Nurses
The revised edition is organized into four distinct sections, each addressing fundamental aspects of ethical conduct:
Nurses and patients or individuals requiring services
Nurses and practice
Nurses and the profession
Nurses and global health
The prior edition also featured four sections: nurses and people, nurses and practice, nurses and the profession, and nurses and co-workers.
The most notable modification in the revised edition is the inclusion of the section on global health. This segment underscores the role of nurses in advocating for equity in healthcare, an issue starkly illuminated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The updated code also addresses emerging concerns such as the digital revolution, encompassing social media; the integration of artificial intelligence in healthcare settings; human genome technology; population health and the Sustainable Development Goals; and the repercussions of environmental and climate changes.
As articulated by Annette Kennedy, President of the ICN at the time of the launch, “Serving as a compass for nurses in their daily decision-making, the revised Code emphasizes the imperative of safeguarding and supporting nurses and ensuring they receive the requisite education, training, and resources to deliver the highest quality of care to all patients.”
Code of Nursing Ethics – A Living Document
To assist nurses in translating the code into practice, each section is accompanied by a set of standards followed by illustrative examples of practical application.
“The ICN Code of Ethics for Nurses is a practical guide rooted in social values and needs. Its significance lies in its active application to the realities of nursing and healthcare across all care settings.”
Every nurse and nursing student is encouraged to study, contemplate, and incorporate the Code into their daily practice, regardless of whether they work in direct patient care, education, research, management, or policy development.
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