Nursing Code of Ethics Stands with Human Rights and So Do I


I am writing today to express support for all of the nurses who advocate for the rights of all human beings.  I am Liz Stokes, a Senior Policy Advisor for the ANA Center for Ethics and Human Rights, and have been a nurse for many years.  I spend each day informing, elevating, and advancing nursing ethics and human rights.  I stand with nurses in the fight for human rights with two things in my arsenal: (1) my stethoscope (because nurses do wear stethoscopes) and (2) the Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (the Code).   When I became a nurse, I took an oath to commit to the tenets of the profession, including the Code.   “Nurses must always stress human rights protection with particular attention to preserving the human rights of vulnerable groups such as the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the mentally ill, prisoners, refugees, women, children, and socially stigmatized groups.” Interpretive Statement 8.4

What this blog is not:

  • A post about my political affiliation
  • My personal perspective on religious affiliation

This post is a reminder to my fellow nurses that we have an ethical obligation not only to stress human rights protection, but also to care for all.  We do not get to choose who we care for.  The word “patient” does not include identifying factors such as race, ethnicity, status, economic worth, criminal history, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, immigration status, physical appearance, spiritual belief, disability, mental health, culture, or any other measure.  When a patient is in need, we answer the call of duty that we all were trained for.  We do so with compassion and respect and without bias or discrimination (intentional or unintentional).  This means that we have to be aware of our own biases in order to overcome them.  Take this opportunity to self-reflect.  What are your implicit biases? Take this moment to refresh yourselves with the Code that binds us and affirms, “A fundamental principle that underlies all nursing practice is respect for the inherent dignity, worth, unique attributes, and human rights of all individuals.” Interpretive Statement 1.1

Our profession is incredible.  We are the most trusted profession.  The power and influence we have on our patients, communities, and the world is profound.  Even when our personal perspectives vary- and they undoubtedly will- we must live up to our ethical obligations and be unified in our fight for equality in the treatment of all patients and zealous protection of human rights.

Over the last few weeks, many nurses across the world have expressed fear, uncertainty, sorrow, anger, and powerlessness on behalf of their patients and themselves.  Journaling, blogging, and other forms of written expression can be effective and therapeutic methods of dealing with intense emotions.  Please feel free to comment below and share your stories of advocacy and protection of our primary commitment- our patients.



Author: Liz Stokes

Senior Policy Advisor, ANA Center for Ethics and Human Rights

3 thoughts on “Nursing Code of Ethics Stands with Human Rights and So Do I”

  1. Yes to this. I’ve shared to social media so my healthcare colleagues and friends can see it and reflect upon it. Thank you.

  2. Well stated! I’d like to take it a step further and say that, from my perspective, political affiliations and religious beliefs cannot be separated from ethical thinking and behavior. President Trump’s proposed ban on immigration flies in the face of the beliefs and principles which undergird our nation as well as our profession. These deeply held values compel us to challenge the implementation of policies and practices which fail to honor human rights. The concept, “human rights” transcends political affiliation, class, race, gender, nationality. etc. Nursings code of ethics defines a professional responsibility to speak on behalf of human beings when basic rights are being violated. The political forum along with our professional arena offer a platform for actualizing this responsibility.

  3. Liz and All,
    Yes, not only does our professional training and ethical principles apply, but human rights, social justice, and identification of the inherent self – worth of people as human beings is a central pillar and philosophical base of our profession. I’ve been a community/public health nurse for the majority of my career and I would echo Liz’s comments. In community/public health we identify and advocate for these principles as well as incorporating and transcending beyond what is good for one person, to consider what is best for the majority (the good of the all). These principles are an aspect of our profession where we affirm and frame our language as such to be reflective of inclusivity, with cultural awareness, humility, inherent respect and dignity of all people, transcending over and beyond one’s own personal self-interest and implicit bias to a more comprehensive and global perspective. This perspective and philosophy is reflective and strongly identified within the core ethical principles of community / public health nursing and intersects well with ANA’s Code of Ethics. Thanks for posting Liz!

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