Posted: March 24th, 2023

The Difference between Beneficence and Nonmaleficence


The daily practice of clinical medicine demands that the practitioners practice ethical behavior. At times, some actions from caregivers might be considered ethical by the set standards or from a subjective perspective. Ethics enable nursing practitioners to make informed choices when faced with work-related dilemmas (Gallagher, 2012). However, the actions in the nursing practice are considered as either beneficence or nonmaleficence. While the two terms differ in meaning, it is worth appreciating that the names entail the aspects of acting ethically in professional practice.

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By definition, beneficence involves the measures that a practicing nurse takes for the benefits of another person, often the patient. Accordingly, the actions considered beneficence are taken to prevent and eliminate harm to the patients and improve their welfare (Tagin, Zhu, & Gunn, 2015). For instance, the work of a registered nurse working in a detox facility could involve many dilemmas where beneficent actions are often used. For example, when such a nurse engages in actions to discourage smoking, the acts are regarded as beneficence. Indeed, other beneficent measures taken in the care of drug addicts by the nurses may include counseling services as well as initiating and exercise programs for the patients. In addition, there are distinctions in the procedures, with some ethical practices considered obligatory and others ideal (Tagin, Zhu, & Gunn, 2015). The ideal beneficence is explained where the nursing practitioner illustrates dealings of extreme charity. While the nursing practitioners are not obliged to live with such extreme kindness, they are expected to take all measures to promote their patients’ welfare (Tagin, Zhu, & Gunn, 2015). On the other hand, the obligatory beneficence is well pronounced for the physicians and not for the nurses.


The concept of nonmaleficence is based on the philosophy of “Do not harm.” Accordingly, the nursing practitioners must refrain from offering ineffective treatment and acts that could be considered malicious towards their patients (Dehghani et al., 2014). Thus, the pertinent issue considered in nonmaleficence ethics is whether the benefits realized from the actions outweigh the burdens faced (Bergman & Galicia-Castillo, 2016). Accordingly, the concept indicates that the nurses face the reality of utilizing useful therapies, which also pose an equal risk to the patients. For example, a nurse operating in the detox department could face the dilemma of utilizing the only available drug and which could not have passed the testing criterion. Accordingly, not utilizing the medicine before being tested could be considered a nonmaleficence action. Another example can be demonstrated when the practitioner refuses to administer medication that is already known to be harmful to the patient. As such, the explanation given to the non-maleficence ethics indicates that the nurse must have the prior knowledge of the effects of the measures to be taken (Bergman & Galicia-Castillo, 2016).


Evidently, as an ethical obligation, the nurse must act in the patient’s best interests by avoiding any activity that could cause harm to the person as based on the principle of beneficence. The ethical principle calls the nursing practitioners to evaluate the outcome of their actions before proceeding with their duties. On the other hand, if the nurse considers the medication to have harmful effects on a patient, ethics demand that such medication should be avoided as dictated by nonmaleficence (Bergman & Galicia-Castillo, 2016). However, the principle of nonmaleficence is criticized for lacking a clearly defined structure for guiding the activities of the nurses while attending to the patients. The explanation is based on the premise that the harm or risk of outcome cannot be known before treatment, especially during emergencies.


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Bergman, C., & Galicia-Castillo, M. (2016). TAVR–Primum Non Nocere: The Issue of Nonmaleficence in an Era of Modern Medical Advances. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 17(3), B6-B7.

Dehghani, A., Ordoubadi, N., Shamsizadeh, M., Parviniyan Nasab, A. M., & Talebi, M. (2014). Perspective of patients about compliance with standards of professional ethics in nursing practice. Journal of Nursing Education, 3(2), 76-84.

Gallagher, A. (2012). Slow ethics for nursing practice. Nursing Ethics, 19(6), 711.

Tagin, M., Zhu, C., & Gunn, A. J. (2015). Beneficence and nonmaleficence in treating neonatal hypoxic-ischemic brain injury. Developmental Neuroscience, 37(4-5), 305-310.


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