Retired Position Statement: Mechanisms Through Which SNAs Consider Ethical/Human Rights Issues 12/8/94

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Effective Date: December 8, 1994
Retired: September, 2011

Status: Retired Position Statement
Originated by: Committee on Ethics, 1985
Revised by: ANA Center for Ethics and Human Rights
Adopted by: ANA Board of Directors
Endorsed by: American Association of Critical Care Nurses; Oncology Nursing Society

Related Past Actions:
1984 House of Delegates Resolution
Code for Nurses with Interpretive Statements, 1985


The American Nurses Association (ANA) believes that the State Nurses Association (SNA) is a vital resource for the nurse and the profession on matters related to ethics and human rights. The ANA supports the development of mechanisms by the SNAs to promote the ethical competence of nurses, the integration of the Code for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (Code for Nurses) into daily practice and human rights sensitivity. These mechanisms can take many forms and should be easily accessible to nurses.


Over recent decades health care has become increasingly complex and pervaded with challenging ethical and human rights issues, questions and dilemmas. Rapid scientific and technologic advances, new diagnostic and treatment methods, and changing health care delivery environments have created new ethical uncertainties and human rights challenges. Nurses frequently encounter the impact of these realities in practice, yet all too often feel inept or unqualified to deal with this dimension of professional practice. Nurses need to learn how to identify the ethical aspects of practice, engage in ethical decision making, and assist in the development of ethically sensitive institutional and public policy. Additionally, nurses need to promote the advancement of human rights precepts and protect against human rights violations. State nurses associations are encouraged to develop mechanisms which provide such services as education, consultation, position statements and policy development to prepare nurses to address the ethical and human rights features of practice. These services may be directed to nurses individually and collectively, to internal units of the SNA, and to the public. The SNAs may also consider developing mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the conduct of nurses. The mechanisms through which these and other services are provided may be by ethics and human rights committees, or by delegation to existing officials or units of the SNA. Individuals with expertise in the area of ethics and human rights can serve as valuable resources to the SNAs in the development of these mechanisms.

Specific implementation activities include the following (the extent to which the SNA is able to engage in these activities may vary, depending on the resources of the state nurses association):

  1. assist with dissemination of the Code for Nurses to nurses, students of nursing, other health professionals, and the general public;
  2. present educational programs to members about the ethical and human rights dimensions of practice and their role in ethical decision making in health care;
  3. support the development of institutional/agency based ethics and human rights resources including ethics committees, consultants and education programs;
  4. promote the active participation of nurses in formal processes of ethical deliberation and multidisciplinary ethics committees;
  5. provide forums for discussion among nurses, other health professionals, and the public about ethical and human rights concerns in health care;
  6. promote networking at the state and national level in the area of ethics and human rights by serving as a source of information about resources such as bioethics and human rights centers, pertinent literature, and individuals with expertise;
  7. serve as a resource for individuals or groups exploring health care ethics and human rights issues in institutions, communities, and political arenas;
  8. develop or recommend revisions of SNA policies or guidelines related to matters of ethics and human rights;
  9. create and implement a process for reporting and handling incompetent, unethical, and illegal practice;
  10. act as consultants to or develop programs for members requesting assistance in addressing ethical and human rights concerns faced in nursing practice and in upholding the Code for Nurses;
  11. assist State Boards of Nursing, Health Departments and other regulatory agencies and interested parties in understanding the ethical and human rights precepts of the profession; and
  12. utilize, as necessary, the resources of the ANA including the Center for Ethics and Human Rights, policies, position statements and publications in an attempt to provide guidance in resolving complex ethical dilemmas and human rights challenges.

The nature and complexity of a rapidly changing health care system has increased the ethical and human rights issues and dilemmas that nurses face. State Nurses Associations can provide leadership, guidance and support to their members through the development of mechanisms that enhance the ethical and human rights dimensions of nursing practice and the quality of care rendered to patients, families, and communities.