Free Essays On Nursing Ethics

  1. Explain in what ways this issue evidences the characteristics of an ethical problem.

The way how this issue evidences the characteristics of an ethical problem is that it is the opposite of what the patient demands. It is a situation in which an individual feels compelled to choose between two or more actions that he or she can reasonably and morally justify, or when evidences or arguments are inconclusive (Ryan, 1998, p. 341). She specifically finds the IV line to be agitating and is keen to remove it herself. The nurses decided to tie the patient’s arms to the bed to provide safety for the patient and to keep her from pulling out the IV line. This measure, in effect, made the patient more agitated serving as the main ethical problem.

  1. Identify the ethical principles implicated by the issue and explain the relationship of these to each other.

Professional nurses are faced with issues on nursing ethics. Nurses are called upon to be

involved in decision making that requires tremendous responsibility and wisdom in the care

of patients as well as with the other health care professionals. The four principles involved in nursing ethics are autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice (Zimmermann, 2002, 301). The three theories of deontological, consequentialist, and virtue theory affect how the four principles of nursing ethics would triumph on the nursing decisions when it comes to patient care. Deontological theory holds that any act is either right or wrong regardless if it was done for the greater good. Consequentialist theory gives importance to the greater good hence does not perceive short term violations as wrong but a justified wrong act. Virtue theory is particularly relevant to nursing since virtuous conduct is linked to therapeutic healing behavior and promotion of human health and wellbeing (Gastemanset et al, 1998).Thus virtue theory permits unethical action as good depending if your motivation is

Patient autonomy and Beneficence

There is a potential dilemma in autonomy versus beneficence in this case of the patient. When a confused elderly patient desires to remove the IV line and is kept under restraints on her bed, it poses many issues on whether the four principles of nursing ethics are inherent. The concept of autonomy involves the concepts of advance directives and informed consent. The ethic of beneficence is to promote the welfare of other people through actions motivated by mercy, kindness, and charity. Beneficence in nursing has examples such as practicing sterile techniques when changing an infiltrated IV set. To put it more simply, the conflict of autonomy versus beneficence on nursing is when nurses are confronted with having to choose between respecting the patient’s right to self determination or autonomy and the principle of beneficence.

The patient’s autonomy is compromised at this given health condition thus necessitates the nurse for drastic measures to maintain the IV line patent. In a consequentialist theory, it is acceptable to strip off the autonomy of the patient because the act of restricting the patient’ arms is done for her recovery. Elderly patients who are confused require immediate attention to restore or maintain effective functioning of the brain through nutrition and hydration. It is done to give priority for an effective nursing management of the confused patient. In a deontological view, the act of tying the patient’s arm to keep the IV line intact is wrong as it denies the patient of her right to refuse and autonomy. In this theory, it neglects the purpose of such act but focuses if the act is right or wrong.

Nonmaleficence and Justice

Nonmaleficence means to do no further harm and is considered to be an overriding principle for everyone who undertakes the care of the patient (Munson, 2004, p. 772). When health care professionals ever violate the principle of nonmaleficence, it is usually in terms of a short term violation to provide a long term greater good. The plan to achieve the greater good after resorting to the short term violation can be viewed as a consequentialist theory.

Justice is the final principle in health care ethics as well as the basis of a duty-based or deontological or ethical theory. To make it simple, the concept of justice is all encompassing in the field of ethics (Beauchamp & Childress, 2001). Justice means to do whatever is right and the demand to be treated justly, fairly, and equally.

When health care workers decide to act on consequentialist theory and virtue theory rather on deontological theory, it is essential to maintain the respect of the patient with informed consent from kin or family members of the patient. The principles of autonomy and beneficence can be in conflict especially when the patient is in a depressed level of consciousness and mentally challenged. The ethics of nonmaleficence and justice are not absolute hence is compromised when the perspective of consequentialist theory rules over the deontological theory.

Discuss a possible resolution to this problem with reference to an ethical decision making model.

A majority of problems concerning ethics encountered by nurses are important. These situations involve conflicts of values in fairly routine patient care situations. Therefore, a values-centered model of ethical decision making can help nurses for a possible resolution. The ethical decision making model consists of four questions as discussed as follows:

  1. What is the story behind the values conflicts?

In the scenario given, the nurse begins to discover how the problem is defined by the parties experiencing the problem or dilemma whether continue IV therapy or discontinue IV therapy. The said dilemma needs to be told by respective parties in terms of factual information. The parties who are involved are family members, then nurse, the attending medical practitioner, other allied healthcare workers, etc. In this way, the full story of the dilemma is determined, the scope of the problem is made explicit and the various interpretations of the said problem and values of the parties involved will be clarified. The family members of the patient may view the IV therapy as an agitating factor for the patient while the medical health team considers it essential to achieve nursing outcomes.

  1. What is the significance of the values involved?

The significance of the values involved offers an insight into the moral and nonmoral nature of the values held by both party and their potential cultural, religious, personal, professional and even political origins. When the values of the patient and family members are known, it helps parties to respect each other’s values in the process of decision making.

  1. What is the significance of this conflict to the parties involved?

The conflict in the value system of an individual will lead to a decision that affects the healthcare of the patient. The patient finds the IV therapy to be uncomfortable given her state of confusion. The family members can be concerned as this conflict is perceived to be unpleasant to the patient. Thus, it is a meaningful decision for them as it is for the health care team who finds it important to hydrate and provide nutrition to the patient.

  1. What should be done?

The course of action in this case is based on the best judgments from a careful consideration of the value conflicts and moral meaning of the situation to the individuals involved. Given the patient is admitted under the care of the health care team then it is most likely that the said team and patient’s family members should prioritize the recovery and wellness of the patient.

The nursing management of acute confusion in geriatric nursing starts with an understanding that it is not a normal outcome of aging. Nutrition and hydration programs are important to the effective functioning of the brain. Dehydration is common among older adults

because of age-related changes in thirst sensation and frequent use of diuretics (Stanley et al, 2005, 349).

The family members of the patient can be especially helpful if they remain at bedside of the patient during hospitalization. The patient is agitated but can not be removed from intravenous therapy as part of the medical management. Hence, there other options to lessen her agitation state with a familiar voice, face, and approach (Rowe, 2007, p 65).

Discuss the significance of this issue for your professional practice as a nurse or paramedic

The ethical issue of how nurses cajole patients into accepting treatments or in this case nursing management is essential but unpleasant. In most instances, however, the nurse has no reason to question the ethics of the treatment because it is in keeping with what the nurse believes is in the patient’s best interest.

In a vast majority of cases, the health care team usually honors the patient’s decision after careful consideration with the principle of respect for autonomy. Though there is also a choice to override those wishes and compel unwanted treatment or nursing management. Two justifications are commonly offered: patient lacks competency or the patient’s decision presents a danger to her or others (Olsen, 2007, p. 51). While autonomy is deemed necessary as part of the nursing ethics, it is not absolute and “automatically” granted when the patient simply decides not to undergo the treatment advised to her. The rights of the patient and inherent limitations of any situation make it necessary to balance individual autonomy against other’s right and duties (Hankins et al, 2001, p. 643). Therefore, it is the nurse’s decision to advance directives, documentation of patient wishes before mental impairments such as the lack of decision-making capabilities (changes of level of consciousness, emotional distress, effects of age, inability to understand and judge alternatives) which make it easier for the system to differentiate autonomy of patients versus nurse’s initiative for the patient’s well-being. Health care workers including nurses and paramedics need to recognize that patients do not lose their rights to autonomy simply because their capacity to make decisions is impaired. Every effort must be directed to discover the preferences of the patient. On the contrary, if the case is similar to the situation mentioned where the elderly patient is confused and seeks to remove the IV therapy then health care workers must rely on other ethical principles of guide care.

The pivotal position of nurse who focuses on intravenous therapy provides them an opportunity to determine ethical problems in care that may not be obvious to others in the health care team. IV nurses should assess possible ethical problems, behave as a role model for ethical care, integrates a problem solving approach in scenarios that poses ethical concerns.


Beauchamp, T.L., & Childress, J.F. (2001). Principles of biomedical ethics (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press

Curtis, B. (1992). Ethics in Nursing. American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 107, 51-53.

Fry, S.T., Jhonstone, M. (2002). Ethics in nursing practice: a guide to ethical decision making. (2nd edition).

Given, B., Sherwood, P., Given, C. (2008) What knowledge and Skills Do Caregivers Need? American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 108, 28-33.

Hankins, J., Lonsway, R.A., Hedrick, C., Perdue, M., (2001). Infusion therapy in clinical practice (2nd edition) Elsevier Health Sciences.

Munson, R. (2004). Intervention and reflection: Basic issues in medical ethics (7th ed.). Victoria, AU: Thomson Wadsworth.

Olsen, D. (2007). Ethical Issues: Unwanted Treatment. New York: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. P 51

Ryan, C.J. (1998). Pulling up the runaway: The effect of new evidence on euthanasia’s slippery slope. Journal of Medical Ethics, 24, 341-344.

Rowe, M. (2008). Wandering in Hospitalized Older Adults. American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 108, 62-69.

Stanley, M., Blair, K., Beare, (2005). Gerontological Nursing. (3rd ed.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.

Zimmermann, P. (2002). Nursing Management secrets. Elsevier Health Sciences

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In every nurse's career, the

nurse is faced with many legal or ethical dilemmas. One of the professional

competencies for nursing states that nurses should " integrate knowledge of

ethical and legal aspects of health care and professional values into nursing

practice". It is important to know what types of dilemmas nurses may face

during their careers and how they may have been dealt with in the past. It

is also important for nurses to understand what malpractice is and how they

may protect themselves from a malpractice suit.


It is important

to first understand the difference between law and ethics. Ethics examines

the values and actions of people. Often times there is no one right course

of action when one is faced with an ethical dilemma. On the other hand, laws

are binding rules of conduct. When laws are broken, it is punishable by an

authority figure.

There are four types of situations that pertain to law

vs. ethics. The first would be an action that is both legal and ethical. An

example of this would be a nurse carrying out appropriate doctor's orders as

ordered. A nurse may also be faced with an action that may be ethical but

not legal, such as allowing a cancer patient to smoke marijuana for medicinal

purposes. The opposite may arise where an action may be legal but not ethical.

Finally, an action may be neither legal or ethical. For example, when a nurse

makes a medication error and does not report it.



have many ethical duties to their clients. The main ethical duties are: nonmaleficence,

beneficence, fidelity, veracity, and justice.

The duty of nonmaleficence

is the duty to do no harm. The nurse first needs to ask him or herself what

harm is. When a nurse gives an injection she is causing the patient pain but

she is also preventing additional harm such as disease development or prolonged

pain. Therefore, the nurse must ask herself a second question about how much

harm should be tolerated.

The duty of beneficence is to do good. In a sense,

it is at the opposite end of nonmaleficence or at the positive end of the nonmaleficence

> beneficence continuum.

The duty of fidelity means to be faithful, or to

keep to your promises. Therefore, if a nurse tells his patient that he will

be back with her pain medication within fifteen minutes then he has an ethical

duty to follow through with what he has said.

Truth telling or, information

disclosure, is the principle behind the duty of veracity. The main argument

against information disclosure is that the disclosure of bad news may shatter

the patient's hope. Those in favor of information disclosure state that it

is part of the patient's rights to know what is happening and that patients

with potentially fatal illnesses are capable of handling the truth.


are three types of justice: distributive justice, compensatory justice, and

procedural justice. Distributive justice concerns the comparative treatment

of individuals in the allotment of benefits and burdens (Purtilo, 1993). An

example in which a question of distributive justice may arise is when there

is a limited amount of federal grants and research money is needed for AIDS,

cancer, and many other deserving medical research projects. Compensatory justice

deals with the compensation for wrongs that have been done (Purtilo, 1993).

An example of this would be a jury awarding a victim money based on pain and

suffering from medical malpractice.

Finally, procedural justice deals with

ordering something in a "fair" manner (Purtilo, 1993). An example would be

the process in which people are eligible to receive organ transplants, the

sickest patients are at the top of the list.


There are

three ethical rights that are relevant to health care. These rights are: the

right to life, autonomy, and health care.

Most people think of antiabortion

activists when they hear the phrase "right to life". However, this right goes

far beyond the boundaries of abortion. The idea of right to life has come

from both religious and philosophical backgrounds. Many hot topics in ethics

relate to the right to life. These topics include euthanasia and the discontinuation

of life support treatments.

The right to autonomy is also referred to as

the right of self-determination.

This right allows for the patient to make

their own decisions, such as: determining what course of treatment he may take

for a disease, refusing treatment, or refusing medications.

The right to

health care requires that a society shall provide the funding, personnel, and

facilities necessary to ensure that individuals have access to necessary health

care. Health care for everyone alsorelates to distributive justice. The question

being asked today is shall we take what health care resources we have and spread

it very thin but so that everyone has equal access of care, or shall we take

what resources we have any distribute them in such a way that we will do the

most good to for the overall population?

American Nursing Association (ANA)

Code of Ethics

In 1985, the ANA established a Code of Ethics for nurses that

contains eleven points. Each of the eleven points is a general principle rather

than specific guidelines. For instance, a nurse faced with an ethical dilemma

involving resuscitation will find no mention of resuscitation in the Code of

Ethics. The ANA has stated that the Code of Ethics is not open to negotiation,

they are also currently in the process of updating the Code of Ethics. In

this section, each of the eleven points will be stated and discussed.


"The nurse provides services with respect for human dignity and the uniqueness

of the client unrestricted by considerations of social or economical status,

personal attributes, or the nature of the health problem." According to this

statement, a nurse can not refuse to care for someone because they may be homosexual,

black, have AIDS, had an abortion, etc. If the nurse has strong ethical views

of her own, she may ask for a reassignment. However, if the supervisor refuses

to reassign or a reassignment is not possible, the nurse can not refuse care

to that patient and must give the same standard of care to that patient as

she would any other patient.

(2) "The nurse safeguards the client's right

to privacy by judiciously protecting information of a confidential nature."

This statement talks about the importance of confidentiality and privacy.

The underlying ethical principles are autonomy and fidelity. The patient

has a right to maintain control over his personal information.

Fidelity deals with being faithful to one's agreements,

i.e. just by being a nurse the nurse has agreed to abide by the ANA Code of

Ethics and therefore has a duty to not sway from it. In the next section is

a real life case study about how a nurse with a special interest in ethics

dealt with an ethical dilemma about HIV and confidentiality in a prominent

Philadelphia hospital. "The nurse's ethical belief in the patient's right

to maintain autonomy must outweigh the temptation to gossip" (Nurse's Handbook

of Law & Ethics, 1992).

(3) "The nurse must safeguard the client and public

when health care and safety are affected by the incompetent, unethical, or

illegal practice of any person." Under this ethical statement a nurse has

the duty to report cases of child abuse, domestic abuse, or any act of negligence

or incompetence by another health care worker. Often times, it is hard for

a nurse to determine whether or not "whistle blowing" on a colleague is warranted.

There is a systematic approach (Nurse's Handbook of Law & Ethics, 1992) to

help determine whether or not to report on a colleague, and if so, how to do

so in an ethical manner. The nurse should begin by gathering all the facts.

Document why you feel that whistle blowing may be warranted and the incidents

in which they occurred. Avoid making any statements that may be considered

personal. Next, state the problem. Again, avoid making any personal statements

and consider any possible causative factors. It may help to enlist the help

of a trusted colleague to review th

e problem with. Thirdly, identify your

objectives. In other words, your purposes for wanting to confront the problem.

If you feel that whistle blowing is warranted proceed to the last step which

is to confront the problem. When confronting the problem, be direct but non-threatening.


"The nurse assumes accountability and responsibility for individual nursing

judgments and actions." If a nurse makes a medication error, not only does

he have a legal obligation to report that error, but according to the above

statement, he has an ethical obligation as well.

(5) "The nurse maintains

competence in nursing." This statement can be applied to many different things.

For example, if you as a nurse are unsure about doing a procedure, asks someone

who is more familiar with the procedure to guide you through it. Also, a nurse

has the ethical obligation to never stop learning. The field of nursing keeps

developing with the technology. Therefore, each nurse shall continue his or

her education by attending in services, seminars, or earning "X" amount of

continuing education points per year.

(6) "The nurse exercises informed judgment

and uses individual competence and qualification as criteria in seeking consultation,

accepting responsibilities, and delegating nursing activities to others."

In a nutshell, a nurse needs to know his scope of practice within the state

in which he works. Nurses can not handle all situations and they need to understand

when it is appropriate to consult with a psychiatrist, social worker, or a

physician about a patient's condition. On the opposite ends a nurse needs

to understand which tasks she can delegate and to whom. For instance, in NYS,

an RN would not delegate the responsibility of assessing a patient to an LPN

because RNs are the only ones that may legally make an initial assessment.


"The nurse participates in activities that contribute to the ongoing development

of the profession's body of knowledge." When some people first read this statement,

they may think that it is in regards to being involved in professional organizations.

I too first thought this but upon further thought, I believe that this statement

refers to being involved in nursing research. The most obvious way to be involved

is to conduct your own nursing research. However, for many nurses, this may

not seem feasible. There are other ways to be involved with nursing research

besides actively conducting it. Nurses can greatly contribute to the profession's

knowledge by reading nursing journals and implementing the findings or interventions

that are shown to be positive to the patient or the profession.

(8) "The

nurse participates in the profession's efforts to implement and improve standards

of nursing." It is under this statement where being involved in professional

organizations, such as the ANA and NYSNA, comes in. Another way to participate

in improving nursing as a profession is to become politically involved. A

nurse can become politically involved by attending town or state meetings and

voicing their concerns, lobbying for bills at both the state and federal level,

and by writing to their state and federal congressmen about issues that concern

them and bills that are up for vote. A nurse can find out about political

issues by being attuned to the world around them, being active in their state

nursing association, and even by contacting the ANA itself. On their web page,

the ANA has a section called "Capitol Watch" which discusses current issues

of importance and how to contact your government representatives.

(9) "The

nurse participates in the profession's efforts to establish and maintain conditions

of employment conducive to high quality nursing care." Nurse's have an ethical

obligation to keep their work places safe, not only for the patients, but for

themselves so that they will have the staffing and equipment to perform quality

nursing care.

(10) "The nurse participates in the profession's efforts to

protect the public from misinformation and misrepresentation and to maintain

the integrity of nursing." This statement speaks of the importance of patient

education. Teaching is a very big part of a nurses role. Patient advocacy

would fit under this statement as well as informed consent.

In a study

done by Deborah Taplin (Hunt, 1994), twenty-three males that had undergone

a TURP and eighteen females that had undergone a D&C were interviewed about

how much information they knew about their procedure from the informed consent.

Deborah found the following results: (1) 56% of the men did not know exactly

what the operation was. (2) 21% of the men thought that their prostate was

removed. (3) The women responded vaguely about the D&C and hysteroscopy procedures.

(4) 15% of all those interviewed did not know what a consent form was for.

(5) 61% of the men and 66% of the women stated that there were no other treatment

options. (6) 56% of the men and 39% of the woman stated that there were no

risks involved in the procedure. (7) None of the subjects mentioned the major

risks of the treatments and only two subjects mentioned anesthetic risks.

(8) Only 17% of the men and 61% of the women actually read the consent form.


study concludes that nurses can not assume that a patient has fully consented

to a procedure just because the consent form is signed. As the patients' advocates,

nurses should take the initiative to go over the consent form with their patients

even after it is signed. Many patients feel more comfortable asking questions

to a nurse than a physician.

(11) "The nurse collaborates with members of

the health profession and other citizens in promoting community and national

efforts to meet the health needs of the public."



Johnson RN, MS is a nurse in a substance abuse center at a prominent Philadelphia

hospital. Sally has been active with her hospital's ethical committee for

the past four years. Sally shared with me an ethical dilemma that she faced

that stands out in her mind. It happened a number of years ago at a independent

substance abuse treatment center before her involvement with the ethical committee

at the hospital in which she now works. Here is her experience in her own


"Only once did I take a very direct (and in PA illegal) controversial

course of action. In this case, the patient was an active prostitute


to IV heroin. She already conceived and delivered three

HIV infected babies

and had no compunction to stop any of her

behavior. In fact, she would tell

me, 'I plan to take as many of those

SOBs with me as I can... I'm spreading

the wealth to as many people

as possible and as often as possible!' I did

an anonymous disclosure

to the appropriate division of our local public health

department. I slept

better that night for doing so."

Sally also discussed

hospital ethics committees with me. There are many functions of an ethics

committee. These functions include: policy development, education, case consultation,

addressing a single issue and addressing issues pertinent to a specific population.

Sally's committee is devised of 1/3 physicians. 1/3 nurses, and 1/3 clergy,

social workers, or other health professionals. Because nurses work so closely

with patients, they are often the first to identify a potential ethical dilemma.

Ethical committees allow these nurses to voice their concerns and share with

the other people of the committee potential ethical dilemmas in the hospital.



Before 1932, nurses were expected to follow

every doctors' orders without question. In Byrd v. Marion General Hospital

(1932), the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that nurses should follow doctors'

orders unless they were obviously negligent, in which case, a nurse can be

found liable (Nurse's Handbook of Law & Ethics, 1992). After World War Two,

nursing education and licensure requirements increased and tasks became more

complex. This allowed nurses greater autonomy but also increased the risk

of them being held liable for mistakes.

The two major reasons for lawsuits

against nurses are medication errors and falls (Nurse's Handbook of Law &

Ethics, 1992). Other common reasons include: operating room errors (i.e. problems

with a sponge count), mix-ups during patient transfers, communication breakdown

between nurses and physicians, and inadequate observation of a patient.



According to the article, "Avoiding a Malpractice Nightmare"

in Nursing 90, there are twelve steps to avoiding malpractice liability. These

steps are listed below.

1. Know your strengths and weaknesses

2. Evaluate

your assignment

3. Delegate carefully

4. Carry out orders cautiously


Administer medications carefully

6. Maintain a rapport with the patient


Watch what you say

8. Read before you sign

9. Document carefully and accurately


Exercise caution when assisting with procedures

11. Follow hospital policies

and procedures

12. Keep policies and procedures up to date



If a nurse is sued for malpractice, there are two common defenses

that he or she can use: respondeat superior and borrowed servant (Nurse's Handbook

of Law & Ethics, 1992).

Respondeat superior is Latin for "let the master

answer", it is also known as the "Theory of Vicarious Liability." This theory

states that if a nurse is found negligent doing something under her supervisor's

direction, then that nurse should not have to bear the brunt of the damages.

This theory can be used as a defense for all occupations, not just health


The borrowed servant theory is also known as the "Captain of the Ship"

doctrine. This defense is still used but less often than in the past. This

defense may be used when a nurse commits a negligent act under the direct supervision

of someone else (i.e. assisting in a procedure at the emergency department).


ipsa loquitur allows for the plaintiff to prove negligence with circumstantial

evidence. This is useful when the defendant may be the only one who has knowledge

about the patient's injury. It is Latin for, "The thing speaks for itself".

Normally in court, the plaintiff has the responsibility to prove to the court

that the defendant was negligent. When res ipsa loquitur is applied, the responsibility

shifts to the defendant and he or she must prove that the injury was caused

by some other reason than his or her negligence. One of the most common cases

where res ipsa loquitur is applied is in cases where a foreign object (i.e.

sponge) was left in the body after surgery.


Facing legal and ethical

issues during one's nursing career may be as common as taking vital signs.

Often times, there's not just one right course of action to take. The ANA

Code of Ethics are guidelines to help a nurse determine which course of action

to take. Many times, an ethical decision may be made that holds to one of

the guidelines but may infringe on another or the action may be ethical but

not legal (or vice versa).


Nurse's handbook of law & ethics. (1992). Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corporation.

Catalano, J.T. (1996). Contemporary professional nursing. Philadelphia:


Davis Company.

Hunt, G. (Ed.). (1994). Ethical issues in nursing.

London: Routledge.

Lancombe, D.C. (1990). Avoiding a malpractice nightmare.

Nursing 90, 20

(6), 42-43.

Purtilo, R. (1993). Ethical dimensions

in the health professions (2cd ed.). 

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