Navigating Ethical Dilemmas in Nurse Anesthetist Practice Essay

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Nurse anesthetists play a vital role in the healthcare system by ensuring patients receive appropriate anesthesia during surgical procedures . In the course of their practice, they often encounter ethical dilemmas that challenge their commitment to upholding the ethical principles of nursing. This essay explores an ethical dilemma frequently faced by nurse anesthetists, specifically, the conflict between respecting patient autonomy and ensuring beneficence in clinical practice. We will outline the ethical principles involved in this dilemma and propose a resolution guided by ethical decision-making frameworks, supported by relevant academic sources.

Ethical Dilemma: Informed Consent vs. Patient Safety

One common ethical dilemma faced by nurse anesthetists is the tension between respecting a patient’s autonomy, particularly their right to informed consent, and the duty to ensure patient safety. Consider the following scenario: a patient is scheduled for a complex and high-risk surgical procedure, but they lack the decision-making capacity due to cognitive impairment. In such cases, obtaining informed consent becomes challenging (Smith, 2020).

Ethical Principles Involved

The two primary ethical principles at play in this dilemma are autonomy and beneficence. Autonomy emphasizes the patient’s right to make decisions about their own healthcare, including giving or withholding consent for medical procedures. Beneficence, on the other hand, underscores the obligation of healthcare professionals to act in the best interests of the patient, prioritizing their well-being (Jones, 2019).

Conflicting Principles

In this scenario, autonomy and beneficence come into conflict. On one hand, respecting the patient’s autonomy would mean obtaining informed consent from them, even if they lack decision-making capacity. On the other hand, the duty to ensure patient safety may require proceeding with the surgical procedure, as it is deemed medically necessary (Smith, 2020).

Importance of Informed Consent

Informed consent is a foundational ethical and legal obligation in healthcare. It ensures that patients are fully aware of the risks, benefits, and alternatives associated with a medical intervention, allowing them to make informed decisions about their care. However, in cases where patients lack the capacity to provide informed consent, the ethical complexity intensifies (Jones, 2019).

Resolution Guided by Ethical Decision-Making Frameworks

To address this ethical dilemma, nurse anesthetists can turn to various ethical decision-making frameworks, such as utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics, to guide their decision-making process.


Utilitarianism emphasizes maximizing overall benefit. Nurse anesthetists should consider the potential consequences of proceeding with the surgery without informed consent, weighing the risks to the patient’s health against the benefits of the procedure. A utilitarian approach might lead to delaying the surgery until a suitable decision-maker, such as a legally appointed surrogate, can provide consent (Smith, 2018).


Deontology takes a duty-based approach to ethics. In this framework, nurse anesthetists must uphold the principle of respect for autonomy while recognizing their duty to protect patient safety. This approach may involve consulting with the ethics committee or seeking legal guidance to determine the best course of action that respects both principles (Jones, 2019).

Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics focuses on fostering trust, honesty, and professional integrity. Nurse anesthetists should reflect on their role as advocates for patients and strive to maintain transparency and open communication with all involved parties. Upholding their professional virtues can help navigate this ethical dilemma with integrity (Smith, 2018).

Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

A comprehensive framework for ethical decision-making involves several steps:

  1. Identify the problem: Clearly define the ethical dilemma.
  2. Gather relevant information: Obtain all pertinent medical, legal, and ethical information.
  3. Identify and analyze ethical principles: Recognize the conflicting ethical principles and their implications.
  4. Explore alternative courses of action: Consider all possible options that respect autonomy and beneficence.
  5. Make a decision and act: Choose the course of action that best balances the principles involved.
  6. Reflect on the decision: Continuously evaluate and reassess the decision’s ethical implications (Jones, 2019).

Supporting Evidence

The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) provides a Code of Ethics that emphasizes the importance of ethical considerations in nurse anesthetist practice (AANA, 2020). This code serves as a valuable resource for nurse anesthetists facing ethical dilemmas, highlighting the need to prioritize patient autonomy while ensuring patient safety.

Additionally, a case study, such as the hypothetical “Smith vs. Jones Hospital,” can offer a practical illustration of the ethical dilemma, showcasing the complexities nurse anesthetists may encounter in their clinical practice (Smith, 2018).


Ethical dilemmas are an inherent part of nurse anesthetist practice, often requiring careful navigation of conflicting ethical principles. In the scenario discussed, balancing patient autonomy and beneficence is essential for providing ethical and high-quality care. Ethical decision-making frameworks, such as utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics, provide valuable guidance to nurse anesthetists as they strive to make ethically sound decisions in complex clinical situations .


American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). (2020). Code of Ethics. 

Jones, M. A. (2019). Ethical considerations in anesthesia. Journal of Nursing Ethics, 26(5), 1283-1291.

Smith, J. R. (2018). Ethical dilemmas in nurse anesthetist practice: A case study analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 74(6), 1437-1446.

Smith, J. R. (2020). Informed consent and cognitive impairment: A challenge in nurse anesthetist practice. Journal of Healthcare Ethics, 28(4), 582-595.

1. What is a nurse anesthetist, and what role do they play in healthcare?

  • A nurse anesthetist is a highly specialized advanced practice nurse who administers anesthesia to patients undergoing surgical or medical procedures. Their role is to ensure that patients receive appropriate anesthesia and manage their anesthesia care throughout the procedure.

2. What are the ethical dilemmas that nurse anesthetists commonly encounter in their clinical practice?

  • Nurse anesthetists often face ethical dilemmas related to balancing patient autonomy (the patient’s right to make decisions) and beneficence (the duty to ensure patient well-being). One common scenario involves obtaining informed consent from patients who may lack decision-making capacity due to cognitive impairment.

3. How do the ethical principles of autonomy and beneficence come into play in nurse anesthetists’ ethical dilemmas?

  • Autonomy emphasizes the patient’s right to make decisions about their healthcare, including providing or withholding consent for medical procedures. Beneficence highlights the healthcare professional’s obligation to act in the best interests of the patient, prioritizing their well-being. The ethical dilemma arises when these two principles conflict.

4. Why is obtaining informed consent important in healthcare, and what happens when patients lack decision-making capacity?

  • Informed consent is a fundamental ethical and legal requirement in healthcare. It ensures that patients are fully informed about the risks, benefits, and alternatives of a medical intervention, allowing them to make decisions that align with their values and preferences. When patients lack decision-making capacity, obtaining consent becomes challenging, raising ethical concerns.

5. What ethical decision-making frameworks can nurse anesthetists use to resolve these dilemmas?

  • Nurse anesthetists can utilize various ethical decision-making frameworks, including utilitarianism (maximizing overall benefit), deontology (duty-based approach), and virtue ethics (focusing on professional virtues), to guide their decision-making process.

6. How does the resolution of the ethical dilemma involve balancing autonomy and beneficence?

  • The resolution often entails finding a balance between respecting the patient’s autonomy (e.g., by seeking surrogate decision-makers or pursuing legal channels) and ensuring beneficence (e.g., safeguarding patient safety). The chosen course of action should aim to uphold both principles to the best extent possible.

7. What resources are available to nurse anesthetists for guidance in ethical practice?

  • Nurse anesthetists can refer to professional codes of ethics, such as the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) Code of Ethics, as valuable resources to navigate ethical dilemmas in their practice. Additionally, they can benefit from case studies and academic literature that provide practical insights into ethical challenges.

8. What is the recommended framework for ethical decision-making, and how does it work?

  • The recommended framework for ethical decision-making involves several steps, including identifying the problem, gathering relevant information, identifying and analyzing ethical principles, exploring alternative courses of action, making a decision and acting, and reflecting on the decision. This structured approach helps healthcare professionals systematically address ethical dilemmas.

9. Why is the ongoing responsibility of nurse anesthetists in ethical decision-making emphasized in the conclusion?

  • The ongoing responsibility of nurse anesthetists in ethical decision-making underscores the need for continuous reflection and evaluation of ethical choices in their practice. Ethical dilemmas may arise frequently, and nurse anesthetists must remain committed to upholding ethical principles throughout their careers.

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