According to the Clinical Ethics Network website (2011), the Four Principles offered by Beauchamp and Childress is one of the most popularly used set of guidelines in the nursing profession. Furthermore, this particular model not only refers to ethics in a clinical setting, but also more generally.
The first ethical principle is Respect for Autonomy. This suggests that nurses should respect the decisions of patients, even if these decisions go against that the nurse believes to be right, either professionally or personally. Providing the patient is making an informed decision, the ethical principle says that this decision should be respected. An example of this might be a patient who has been diagnosed with cancer. Treatment could potentially add years to their life, but the patient decides that they would rather not go through it, and want to be allowed to die at home. Although the nurse may wish the patient to change their mind and accept treatment, they must respect the patient’s autonomy, providing they are making an informed decision.
The second principle is Beneficence, and involves the consideration of treatment, and balancing the benefits against the risks. The nurse should always act in a manner that is of benefit to the patient.
Non Maleficence is the third principle, and means that the nurse should cause no harm to the patient. All benefits of all treatment should be weighed against the risks, and if the treatment is disproportionately harmful to the patient then the nurse should not go ahead with it.
The fourth and final principle is Justice. Within a healthcare context, this means that the nurse should act fairly in the distribution of benefits, treatments, and costs. Furthermore, all patients should be treated in as equal to one another.
The ethical principles provide a set of guidelines for nurses to adhere to in their professional lives, and can be applied to all situations.
UK Clinical Ethics Network. (2011). The Four Principles Approach. Retrieved from