Ethical Issues in Nursing Research

Major Ethical Issues in Conducting Research

Links between nursing research and the inquiry of moral behavior (ethics) have been established because there are three value systems involved in such research: society, science, and nursing, which all interconnect with each other. Thus, significant ethical issues in conducting research are linked to these value systems. Specific moral issues in conducting research include informed consent, beneficence (do not harm), respect for confidentiality and anonymity, respect for privacy, vulnerable groups of people, skills of the researcher, the nature of nursing, and advocacy in nursing (Fouka & Mantzorou, 2011).

All of the mentioned ethical issues are associated with the ambiguity in decision-making and thus cause troubles to researchers. It is essential to establish professional codes, laws, and regulations on providing nursing researchers with information on how to make final decisions on conducting a study without undermining their moral codes or value systems. To improve the attitudes towards ethics in nursing research, it may be beneficial to dedicate some parts of nursing curricula to this subject.

Questions for Debate

As mentioned by Edwards, Woods, and Humphreys (2011), questions for debate on ethics of nursing research include “What is the role of moral theory in everyday nursing ethics?” and “Is it right that Research Ethics Committees make judgments about the scientific quality of research proposals?” (p. 460). Researchers mentioned that nurses should use moral theory for guiding them in the process of decision-making; if moral theories are ignored, then the ethical behavior will not take place. It was argued that moral theories were associated with overall “commonsense morality” that could be used in different ways in the everyday nursing practice (Edwards et al., 2011, p. 461).

With regards to Research Ethics Committees (EC) making judgments about the scientific quality of proposals, it was pointed out that such decisions were often unfair, which suggested that ECs were rather to take judgments and not make them (Edwards et al., 2011). Therefore, assessments of proposals’ scientific quality should be conducted by those bodies, the roles of which were determined by research sponsors for avoiding interference.

Nursing Research Ethics, Guidance, and Application in Practice

It was suggested that ethics played a large role in defining good research practice, evidence development, and nurse education (Doody & Noonan, 2016). Because of this, it is essential to be prepared for any possible risks and learn how to address them within the research. Ethical approval is an important aspect in this case as it is concerned with reviewing ethical measures taken to address possible issues and ensuring that participants’ integrity and confidentiality are preserved.

Also, nursing research ethics should take into account informed consent as a key component of any study and introduce steps for guaranteeing participants’ understanding of the concept. In conclusion, it is noteworthy to mention that it is difficult for nurse researchers to balance between different responsibilities, which points to the need for establishing clear guidelines of research ethics.

Principles of Ethical Medical Research

Seven key principles of ethical medical research include scientific validity, social and clinical value, a fair selection of subjects, favorable ratio or risks to benefits, independent review, informed consent, and respect for enrolled participants (NIH, 2017). All of the mentioned principles are put to work for conducting research that will yield knowledge for improving patient health and increasing the understanding of human biology (NIH, 2017). Since placing research participants at risk is considered harmful to nursing practice, clinical research should take into account the established ethical principles for protecting patients and preserving scientific integrity.


Doody, O., & Nonnan, M. (2016). Nursing research ethics, guidance, and application in practice. British Journal of Nursing, 25(14), 803-808.

Edwards, S., Woods, M., & Humphreys, S. (2011). Questions for debate. Nursing Ethics, 18(3), 460-463.

Fouka, G., & Mantzorou, M. (2011). What are the major ethical issues in conducting research? Is there a conflict between the research ethics and the nature of nursing. Health Science Journal, 5(1), 3-14.

NIH. (2017). Patient recruitment: Ethics in clinical research. Clinical guidelines. Web.