Moral Problems Experienced by Nurses When Caring for Terminally Ill People: A Literature Review
Nursing Ethics 2002 March; 9(2): 155-178
This article is a review of the literature on the subject of how nurses who provide palliative care are affected by ethical issues. Few publications focus directly on the moral experience of palliative care nurses, so the review was expanded to include the moral problems experienced by nurses in the care of the terminally ill patients. The concepts are first defined, and then the moral attitudes of nurses, the threats to their moral integrity, the moral problems that are perceived by nurses, and the emotional consequences of these moral problems are considered in turn. The results show that the moral behaviour of nurses, which is theoretically grounded in commitment to care and to the patient, appears to be shaped by specific processes that lead to engagement or to mental and behavioural disengagement in morally difficult situations. Nurses often appear to fail to recognize the moral dimensions of the problems they experience and also to lack the skills they need to resolve moral problems adequately. Although the findings show that several elements that are beyond the control of nurses, owing to their lack of autonomy and authority, influence their moral experience, intrinsic factors such as feelings of insecurity and powerlessness have a profound effect on nurses' perceptions and attitudes in the face of moral problems. The moral problems perceived by these nurses are related to end-of-life issues, communication with patients, the suffering of patients, and the appropriateness of the medical treatment.
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