ICN Launches Revised Code of Ethics for Nurses

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A revised Code of Ethics for Nurses was launched by the International Council of Nurses on International Ethics Day on October 20. The extensively revised Code addresses many of the challenges and ethical dilemmas which were brought to the forefront by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is most evident in the new section on Nurses and Global Health.

Purpose of the ICN Code of Ethics for Nurses

Since it was first adopted in 1953 the ICN Code of Nursing Ethics has guided nursing practice across the globe. Since then it has been revised regularly in response to changes in nurses’ roles and responsibilities, health care, and society as a whole.

The Code is a statement of the professional values, responsibilities, and accountabilities of nurses with the purpose of guiding ethical nursing practice. It serves as a framework for resolving the ethical dilemmas faced by nurses irrespective of their role or the setting in which they practice.  

Furthermore, the Code lays a foundation that can be built on by the law, regulations, and professional standards which govern nursing practice in a particular country.

Review for the new 2021 ICN Code of Ethics for Nurses started in 2019. The work was done by an Expert Steering Group, ICN Board members which represent all ICN member countries, and ICN Staff.  Besides the English version, the document is also available in Spanish, French, and German.

Changes to the ICN Code of Ethics for Nurses

The revised edition is divided into four sections representing the principal elements for ethical conduct:

  • nurses and patients or other people requiring services
  • nurses and practice
  • nurses and the profession
  • nurses and global health. 

The previous edition also had four sections, namely nurses and people, nurses and practice, nurses and the profession, and nurses and co-workers. 

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From the above, it is clear that the major change in the revised edition is the addition of the section on global health. This element focuses on nurses’ advocacy role in addressing inequities in health care, which have been so starkly highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The revised code also addresses new issues like the digital explosion, including social media; artificial intelligence in health care settings; human genome technology; population health and the Sustainable Development Goals; and the consequences of environmental and climate change.

Furthermore, as stated by Annette Kennedy, President of the ICN at the time of the launch, “Used as a guide by nurses in everyday choices, the revised Code highlights the need to protect and support nurses and ensure they have the appropriate education, training, and resources to provide the highest quality of care to all patients.”

Code of Nursing Ethics – a living document

To help nurses translate the code into action, each section has a list of standards followed by a chart with examples of how it is applied in practice.

“The ICN Code of Ethics for Nurses is a guide for action based on social values and needs. It will have meaning only as a living document if applied to the realities of nursing and health care in all settings in which nursing care is delivered.”

Every nurse and nursing student is encouraged to study, reflect on, and make the Code part of their everyday practice – whether in direct patient care, education, research, management, or policy development.

Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

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