Legal and Ethical Issues Faced by Oncology Nurses

Oncology nurses encounter various clinical situations requiring ethical and legal decision-making in their day-to-day work schedules. According to Park (2009), the primary areas of ethical and legal issues faced by oncology nurses are divided into three main categories – i) end-of-life treatment decisions, patient care issues, and human rights issues. The most frequent ethical issue faced by oncology nurses falls under the patient care category including the widespread understaffing patterns that prevent patients from accessing nursing care. Additionally, such nurses encounter the issue of nurse-patient conflicts, poor allocation of human, financial, and equipment resources, patient privacy and confidentiality, and incompetent colleagues. Under the human rights category, oncology nurses face challenging ethical issues in protecting patient rights, providing care that exposes care providers to risk, and obtaining informed consent to treatment. Similarly, under the end-of-life category, nurses face ethical dilemmas when prolonging the dying process inappropriately, neglect of patients by their family members, acting against nurses’ personal or religious views, and treatment or non-treatment despite the patients’ wishes.

However, despite the many ethical and legal challenges in oncology nursing, nurses in this specialty have devised ways to deal with the emergent issues. The majority of nurses use personal values to solve any arising ethical challenges, while others prefer discussing the problems with their peers. Additionally, most nurses escalate the problems to a higher administrative authority, such as directors, supervisors, or managers in the quest to get appropriate answers and make the right decisions. A small number of nurses consult with ethics committees where possible. Overall, nurses in this study indicated that continued education in:

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  • “professional responsibility,
  • patient rights,
  • ethical code/principles,
  • treatment/non-treatment of the dying,
  • patient advocacy,
  • ethical decision making” (Park, 2009, p. 72)

would play a central role in preparing them to handle the ethical challenges encountered in the course of care provided to cancer patients.

Reference

Park, M. (2009). Ethical issues in nursing practice. Journal of Nursing Law, 13(3), 68-77.

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