Home > On The Issues > Best Nursing > Nursing Ethics

Nursing Ethics

Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses (2008 Centennial Edition)

Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses

The Canadian Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses is a statement of the ethical values of nurses and of nurses’ commitments to persons with health-care needs and persons receiving care. It is intended for nurses in all contexts and domains of nursing practice and at all levels of decision-making. It is developed by nurses for nurses and can assist nurses in practicing ethically and working through ethical challenges that arise in their practice with individuals, families, communities and public health systems.




Purpose of the Code

The Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses serves as a foundation for nurses’ ethical practice. It provides guidance for ethical relationships, responsibilities, behaviours and decision-making, and it is to be used in conjunction with the professional standards, laws and regulations that guide practice.

The code serves as a means of self-evaluation and self-reflection for ethical nursing practice and provides a basis for feedback and peer review. It also serves as an ethical basis from which nurses can advocate for quality work environments that support the delivery of safe, compassionate, competent and ethical care.

Nurses recognize the privilege of being part of a self-regulating profession and have a responsibility to merit this privilege. The code informs other health-care professionals as well as members of the public about the ethical commitments of nurses and the responsibilities nurses accept as being part of a self-regulating profession.

The specific values and ethical responsibilities expected of registered nurses in Canada are set out in part I. Endeavours that nurses may undertake to address social inequities as part of ethical practice are outlined in part II.

Part I: Nursing Values and Ethical Responsibilities

The first part of the code, “Nursing Values and Ethical Responsibilities,” describes the core responsibilities central to ethical nursing practice. These ethical responsibilities are articulated through seven primary values and accompanying responsibility statements, which are grounded in nurses’ professional relationships with individuals, families, groups, populations and communities as well as with students, colleagues and other health-care professionals.

Primary Nursing Values

1. Providing safe, compassionate, competent and ethical care
Nurses provide safe, compassionate, competent and ethical care.

2. Promoting health and well-being
Nurses work with people to enable them to attain their highest possible level of health and well-being.

3. Promoting and respecting informed decision-making
Nurses recognize, respect and promote a person’s right to be informed and make decisions.

4. Preserving dignity
Nurses recognize and respect the intrinsic worth of each person.

5. Maintaining privacy and confidentiality
Nurses recognize the importance of privacy and confidentiality and safeguard personal, family and community information obtained in the context of a professional relationship.

6. Promoting justice
Nurses uphold principles of justice by safeguarding human rights, equity and fairness and by promoting the public good.

7. Being accountable
Nurses are accountable for their actions and answerable for their practice.

Nurses in all domains of practice bear the ethical responsibilities identified under each of the seven primary nursing values. These ethical responsibility statements, which appear in the full text of the code, are intended to help nurses apply the code.

Part II: Ethical Endeavours

There are broad aspects of social justice that are associated with health and well-being and that ethical nursing practice addresses. These aspects relate to the need for change in systems and societal structures in order to create greater equity for all. Part II of the code contains thirteen statements entitled “ethical endeavours,” which are intended to guide nurses in their practice. Nurses should endeavour as much as possible, individually and collectively, to advocate for and work toward eliminating social inequities through the ethical endeavours. These endeavours address issues related to access, change, choice, equality and rights.

Other Ethics Resources

Ethics Resources Listing

There are many valuable ethics-related resources which nurses, students and others may find helpful and useful. Outlined below are references from the CNA Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses (2008), as well as suggestions for additional ethics reading resources. In an attempt to be as comprehensive as possible, there may be some overlap between the two lists.

Ethics in Practice series

The Ethics in Practice series consists of short papers that discuss various ethical issues of interest to nurses and provide guidance for nursing practice.

Ethical Research Guidelines for Registered Nurses

Code of Ethics Poster