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The Metaethics of Nursing Codes of Ethics and Conduct

Snelling, Paul (2016) The Metaethics of Nursing Codes of Ethics and Conduct. Nursing Philosophy, 17 (4). pp. 229-249. ISSN Online: 1466-769X

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Abstract

Nursing codes of ethics and conduct are features of professional practice across the world, and in the UK, the regulator has recently consulted on and published a new code. Initially part of a professionalising agenda, nursing codes have recently come to represent a managerialist and disciplinary agenda and nursing can no longer be regarded as a self-regulating profession.This paper argues that codes of ethics and codes of conduct are significantly different in form and function similar to the difference between ethics and law in everyday life. Some codes successfully integrate these two functions within the same document, while others, principally the UK Code, conflate them resulting in an ambiguous document unable to fulfil its functions effectively. The paper analyses the differences between ethical- codes and conduct-codes by discussing titles, authorship, level, scope for disagreement, consequences of transgression, language and finally and possibly most importantly agent-centeredness. It is argued that conduct codes cannot require nurses to be compassionate because compassion involves an emotional response. The concept of kindness provides a plausible alternative for conduct-codes as it is possible to understand it solely in terms of acts. But if kindness is required in conduct-codes, investigation and possible censure follows from its absence. Using examples it is argued that there are at last five possible accounts of the absence of kindness. As well as being potentially problematic for disciplinary panels, difficulty in understanding the features of blameworthy absence of kindness may challenge UK nurses who, following a recently introduced revalidation procedure, are required to reflect on their practice in relation to The Code. It is concluded that closer attention to metaethical concerns by code writers will better support the functions of their issuing organisations.

Item Type: Article
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Uncontrolled Keywords: professional ethics, metaethics, code of conduct, regulation, compassion, kindness
Subjects: R Medicine > RT Nursing
Divisions: Academic Departments > Institute of Health and Society
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Depositing User: Paul Snelling
Date Deposited: 27 May 2016 09:36
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2017 08:59
URI: https://eprints.worc.ac.uk/id/eprint/4503

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