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A national ethics survey was conducted of all registered nurses participating in post-basic specialisation nursing courses in Israel over a one-year period (1994-95) to identify ethical situations which confront Israeli nurses caring for patients of different age groups and in different clinical settings. This study compares the responses of those nurses caring for elderly patients (60 years or older) with those caring for adult patients in other age groups. Nurses caring for the elderly reported encountering ethical dilemmas in 16 out of 37 situations presented to them, more than in the other adult patient age groups. The most frequent dilemmas were concerning mistaken or questionable treatment, patient-family conflict, patient referral to an institution or discharge to the home where the family is incapable of caring for him, offensive behaviour by caregivers and physical restraint of the patient for staff convenience. It is recommended that nursing ethics intervention programmes be established to promote ethical decision making and patients' rights.