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Theory of protective empowering for balancing patient safety and choices

Nursing Ethics , Volume 18 (1): 88 – Jan 1, 2011


Sage Publications
Copyright © 2011 by SAGE Publications
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Theory of protective empowering for balancing patient safety and choices


Registered nurses in psychiatric-mental health nursing continuously balance the ethical principles of duty to do good (beneficence) and no harm (non-maleficence) with the duty to respect patient choices (autonomy). However, the problem of nurses’ level of control versus patients’ choices remains a challenge. The aim of this article is to discuss how nurses accomplish their simultaneous responsibility for balancing patient safety (beneficence and non-maleficence) with patient choices (autonomy) through the theory of protective empowering. This is done by reflecting on interview excerpts about caring from 17 registered nurses taking part in a grounded theory study conducted in three acute urban psychiatric hospital settings in Canada. The interplay between the protective and empowering dimensions of the theory of protective empowering was found to correspond with international, national, and local nursing codes of ethics and standards. The overall core process of protective empowering, and its associated reflective questions, is offered as a new lens for balancing patient safety with choices.
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