The principle of beneficence in applied ethics

Ethics can be defined as a system of norms or codes that control a group's behavior in society. Members of the particular group, in other words, adhere to and correlate with established moral philosophy and ideals (Chadwick & Gallagher, 2016). Feeling, law, religion, science, and culturally accepted norms all differ from ethics. In nursing leadership, ethics is essential in decision-making. It guides the nurse leaders in carrying out all of their commitments and duties. Ethics also enables nursing leaders to recognize their societal responsibilities (Blais, 2015). Beneficience and nonmaleficence are two ethical standards that nursing leaders must follow in their roles. The beneficence principle encompasses the balancing between benefits of treatment and the risks and costs that will be involved. The principle encourages nursing leadership to undertake action for the benefit of others (Edwards, 2009). Beneficent actions can be taken in order to help in the prevention of harm, removing of harms or improving the situations of others. The principle of beneficence calls upon nurses to act within their means to prevent causing harm while at the same time knowing that they have some obligation to their patient (Beauchamp, 2008). The goal of medical intervention is the promotion of the welfare of patients and nurses have skills and knowledge that places them in a position to be able to assist others. Arising from the nature of the relationship between the nurse and the patients is the obligation to prevent and remove harms while weighing the possible risk associated with such an action. The principle of beneficence also entails the protection and defending the rights of others, rescuing people from danger, as well as assisting persons with disabilities (Mawere, 2012).

The non-maleficence ethical principle relates to avoiding the causation of harm. The principal is derived from the recognition that all treatment involve some degree of harm, and care should, therefore, be taken in ensuring that the harm does not exceed the benefit of the intervention (Meddings & Haith-Cooper, 2008). This principal guides the nurses in refraining from the provision of ineffective treatments or acting in malice toward those seeking healthcare. Nurses are required not to provide ineffective treatment to patients because by so doing they would be offering risk without the possibility of benefit, which brings a possibility of inflicting harm to the patients (Beauchamp, 2007). A good example of the application of this principle in a healthcare setting is where a medication that is shown to be harmful is stopped. Another example is refusal for provision of treatment whose effectiveness is yet to be ascertained.

One leadership concern solved by the principle of beneficence in a healthcare setting is delivering of bad news be it to patients or employees. Often, the nursing leaders have to deliver bad news to patients and their families such as diagnosis of terminal illness, or death of loved ones. In such a situation, beneficence plays a major in the determination of how one can deliver the bad news but not be brutal in doing it. Active beneficence can include holding the patient's hand during a painful procedure. It can also entail going beyond the scope of responsibilities to ensure patients receive the appropriate care post discharge (Beauchamp, 2007). In relation to employees, the principle of beneficence can help nurse leaders in communicating such decision as downsizing to the affected employees. Helping them in settling shows one is concerned about others and reduces their pain.

A leadership concern that can be solved through the principle of non-maleficence is high rates of medication error in the provision of care. Medical errors do occur as nurses are fallible humans. What is a cause of concern however, is the behavior of the healthcare professional when an error occurs. On one hand, the medics may disclose this error to the patient and take care for it not to happen again while on the other hand, the medical practitioner may want to withhold such information for fear of hurting the patient (Gallagher, Studdert & Levinson, 2007). According to the ethical principle of non-maleficence, the practitioners have the obligation of not inflicting harm on others. A medical error has the potential to harm the patient, but failure to report according to this ethical principle is even worse. This is because it may leave the patient in worry due to a long stay in hospital or deteriorating condition. The patient may think this is as a result of the disease and thus disclosing minimize the psychological distress that can negatively impact on the patient. Reporting also helps the professional to be cautious in the future and thus, in the long run, the principle will help in reducing the rates of medical errors.

In my future leadership activities, I will incorporate the two ethical principles, beneficence and non-maleficence, in a number of ways. One issue I normally observe in the provision of care is the treatment of patients by the nurses under stressful circumstances. Sometimes the personnel maybe emotionally exhausted at the end of the day making them feel unable to provide any more care despite the next patient expecting the same level of care as received previously. One way to solve this problem is through the application of the principle of beneficence. To ensure staff is motivated to provide the same level of service even under stressful circumstances, I would keep encouraging them including by thanking them for their efforts. I would also seek permission from patients to publish in the newsletter thank you notes from them or their family to a given nurse. A reward system would also be available to provide motivation.

As a future nurse leader, I would apply the principle of non-maleficence dealing with the issue of diversity in the workplace. It would be important to recognize the diversity, honor its differing values and still be in a position to take charge of a cost-effective organization. To do this, I would review policies and procedures in their relationship with diversity and ensure they are structure to protect differences and reduce the chances for harm. For instance, the policies would be clear on issues such as discrimination, any form of harassment, as well as sexual imposition, which would not be allowed. This would discourage behaviors that cause harm to others.

In summary, ethical leadership is critical in dealing with various challenges that can be experienced in a healthcare setting. Various ethical principles provide guidance on how to handle various issues that occur in the provision of care. The principal of beneficence, for instance, provides guidance in balancing the benefits of treatment against the risks and costs involved, while non-maleficence principle implies no harm that is not in equal proportion with the benefit of care. Through completing the assignment, my future leadership role as a nurse has been improved through gaining knowledge of how to use various ethical principles in improving practice.


Beauchamp, T. (2008). The principle of beneficence in applied ethics.

Beauchamp, T. L. (2007). The 'four principles' approach to health care ethics. Principles of health care ethics, 3-10.

Blais, K. (2015). Professional nursing practice: Concepts and perspectives. Pearson.

Chadwick, R., & Gallagher, A. (2016). Ethics and nursing practice. Palgrave Macmillan.

Edwards, S. D. (2009). Nursing ethics: a principle-based approach. Palgrave Macmillan.

Gallagher, T. H., Studdert, D., & Levinson, W. (2007). Disclosing harmful medical errors to patients. New England Journal of Medicine, 356(26), 2713-2719.

Mawere, M. (2012). Critical reflections on the principle of beneficence in biomedicine. Pan African Medical Journal, 11(1).

Meddings, F., & Haith-Cooper, M. (2008). Culture and communication in ethically appropriate care. Nursing Ethics, 15(1), 52-61.

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