Nurses’ use of conscientious objection and the implications for conscience

Christina Lamb, Marilyn Evans, Yolanad Babenko-Mould, Carol Wong, Ken Kirkwood

Journal of Advanced Nursing

Abstract

Aims: To explore the meaning of conscience for nurses in the context of conscientious objection (CO) in clinical practice. Design: Interpretive phenomenology was used to guide this study.

Data sources: Data were collected from 2016 ‐ 2017 through one‐on‐one interviews from eight nurses in Ontario. Iterative analysis was conducted consistent with interpretive phenomenology and resulted in thematic findings. Review methods: Iterative, phased analysis using line‐by‐line and sentence highlighting identified key words and phrases. Cumulative summaries of narratives thematic analysis revealed how nurses made meaning of conscience in the context of making a CO.

Impact: This is the first study to explore what conscience means to nurses, as shared by nurses themselves and in the context of CO. Nurse participants expressed that support from leadership, regulatory bodies, and policy for nurses’ conscience rights are indicated to address nurses’ conscience issues in practice settings.

Results: Conscience issues and CO are current, critical issues for nurses. For Canadian nurses this need has been recently heightened by the national legalization of euthanasia, known as Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada. Ethics education, awareness, and respect for nurses’ conscience are needed in Canada and across the profession to support nurses to address their issues of conscience in professional practice.

Conclusion: Ethical meaning emerges for nurses in their lived experiences of encountering serious ethical issues that they need to professionally address, by way of conscience‐based COs.


Lamb C, Evans M, Babenko-Mould Y, Wong C, Kirkwood Ken. Nurses’ use of conscientious objection and the implications for conscience. J Adv Nurs 2018 Oct 16. doi: 10.1111/jan.13869

Conscientious objection to participation in abortion by midwives and nurses: a systematic review of reasons

Valerie Fleming Lucy Frith, Ans Luyben, Beate Ramsayer

BMC Medical Ethics

Abstract | Background: Freedom of conscience is a core element of human rights respected by most European countries. It allows abortion through the inclusion of a conscience clause, which permits opting out of providing such services. However, the grounds for invoking conscientious objection lack clarity. Our aim in this paper is to take a step in this direction by carrying out a systematic review of reasons by midwives and nurses for declining, on conscience grounds, to participate in abortion.

Method: We conducted a systematic review of ethical arguments asking, “What reasons have been reported in the argument based literature for or against conscientious objection to abortion provision by nurses or midwives?” We particularly wanted to identify any discussion of the responsibilities of midwives and nurses in this area. Search terms were conscientious objection and abortion or termination and nurse or midwife or midwives or physicians or doctors or medics within the dates 2000–2016 on: HEIN legal, Medline, CINAHL, Psychinfo, Academic Search Complete, Web of Science including publications in English, German and Dutch. Final articles were subjected to a rigorous analysis, coding and classifying each line into reason mentions, narrow and broad reasons for or against conscientious objection.

Results: Of an initial 1085 articles, 10 were included. We identified 23 broad reasons, containing 116narrow reasons and 269 reason mentions. Eighty one (81) narrow reasons argued in favour of and 35 against conscientious objection. Using predetermined categories of moral, practical, religious or legal reasons, “moral reasons” contained the largest number of narrow reasons (n =  58). The reasons and their associated mentions in this category outnumber those in the sum of the other three categories.

Conclusions: We identified no absolute argument either for or against conscientious objection by midwives or nurses. An invisibility of midwives and nurses exists in the whole debate concerning conscientious objection reflecting a gap between literature and practice, as it is they whom WHO recommend as providers of this service. While the arguments in the literature emphasize the need for provision of conscientious objection, a balanced debate is necessary in this field, which includes all relevant health professionals.


Fleming V, Frith L, Luyben A, Ramsayer B. Conscientious objection to participation in abortion by midwives and nurses: a systematic review of reasons. BMC Medical Ethics. 2018;19:31. doi:10.1186/s12910-018-0268-3.

Nurses’ perspectives on whether medical aid in dying should be accessible to incompetent patients with dementia: findings from a survey conducted in Quebec, Canada

G. Bravo, C. Rodrigue, M. Arcand, J. Downie, M.-F. Dubois, S. Kaasalaine, C.M. Hertogh,S. Pautex, L. Van den Block

Geriatric Nursing

Abstract

We conducted a survey in a random sample of 514 Quebec nurses caring for the elderly to assess their attitudes towards extending medical aid in dying to incompetent patients and to explore associated factors. Attitudes were measured using clinical vignettes featuring a hypothetical patient with Alzheimer disease. Vignettes varied according to the stage of the disease (advanced or terminal) and the presence or absence of a written request. Of the 291 respondents, 83.5% agreed with the current legislation that allows physicians to administer aid in dying to competent patients who are at the end of life and suffer unbearably. A similar proportion (83%, p = 0.871) were in favor of extending medical aid in dying to incompetent patients who are at the terminal stage of Alzheimer disease, show signs of distress, and have made a written request before losing capacity.


Bravo G, Rodrigue C, Arcand M, Downie J, Dubois M-F, Kaasalaine S, Hertogh CM,  Pautex S, L. Van den Block L. Nurses’ perspectives on whether medical aid in dying should be accessible to incompetent patients with dementia: findings from a survey conducted in Quebec, Canada. Geriatr Nurs. 2018 Jan 3. pii: S0197-4572(17)30319-1. doi: 10.1016/j.gerinurse.2017.12.002.

Fostering Nurses’ Moral Agency and Moral Identity: The Importance of Moral Community

Joan Liaschenko, Elizabeth Peter

The Hastings Center Report

Abstract: It may be the case that the most challenging moral problem of the twenty-first century will be the relationship between the individual moral agent and the practices and institutions in which the moral agent is embedded. In this paper, we continue the efforts that one of us, Joan Liaschenko, first called for in 1993, that of using feminist ethics as a lens for viewing the relationship between individual nurses as moral agents and the highly complex institutions in which they do the work of nursing. Feminist ethics, with its emphasis on the inextricable relationship between ethics and politics, provides a useful lens to understand the work of nurses in context. Using Margaret Urban Walker’s and Hilde Lindemann’s concepts of identity, relationships, values, and moral agency, we argue that health care institutions can be moral communities and profoundly affect the work and identity and, therefore, the moral agency of all who work within those structures, including nurses. Nurses are not only shaped by these organizations but also have the power to shape them. Because moral agency is intimately connected to one’s identity, moral identity work is essential for nurses to exercise their moral agency and to foster moral community in health care organizations. We first provide a brief history of nursing’s morally problematic relationship with institutions and examine the impact institutional master narratives and corporatism exert today on nurses’ moral identities and agency. We close by emphasizing the significance of ongoing dialogue in creating and sustaining moral communities, repairing moral identities, and strengthening moral agency.

Liaschenko J, Peter E.  Fostering Nurses’ Moral Agency and Moral Identity: The Importance of Moral Community.  The Hastings Center Report, Volume 46, Issue S1, September/October 2016, Pages S18–S21.

Ethical Issues Experienced by Hospice and Palliative Nurses

Jooyoung Cheon, Nessa Coyle, Debra L. Wiegand, Sally Welsh

Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing

Abstract

Nurses encounter ethical dilemmas in their clinical practice especially those associated with palliative and end-of-life care. The Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA) members were asked to participate in an ethics survey. The survey aimed to identify ethical issues experienced by hospice and palliative nurses, identify resources available to them and barriers if any to their use, and to identify how HPNA can be of support to hospice and palliative nurses.

One hundred twenty-nine (n = 129) HPNA members completed the online survey. The information from each of the surveys was carefully reviewed, and responses were collapsed into 6 themes.

The ethical dilemmas included inadequate communication, provision of nonbeneficial care, patient autonomy usurped/threatened, issues with symptom management and the use of opioids, issues related to decision making, and issues related to discontinuing life-prolonging therapies.

Approximately two-thirds of the nurses used resources in an attempt to resolve the ethical issues, including a formal ethics consultation, involvement of the palliative/hospice team, consulting with other professionals, and use of educational resources.

One-third of the nurses said there were institutional or personal barriers that prevented the ethical dilemma from being resolved. Participants suggested ways that HPNA could help them to effectively manage ethical dilemmas.


Cheon J, Coyle N,  Wiegand DL, Welsh S. Ethical Issues Experienced by Hospice and Palliative Nurses. J Hospice and Palliative Nursing. 2015;17(1):7-13.

Professional QOL of Japanese nurses/midwives providing abortion/childbirth care

M. Mizuno, E. Kinefuchi, R. Kimura

Nursing Ethics

This study explored the relationship between professional quality of life and emotion work and the major stress factors related to abortion care in Japanese obstetric and gynecological nurses and midwives. . . . Multiple regression analysis revealed that of all the evaluated variables, the Japanese version of the Frankfurt Emotional Work Scale score for negative emotions display was the most significant positive predictor of compassion fatigue and burnout. The stress factors “thinking that the aborted fetus deserved to live” and “difficulty in controlling emotions during abortion care” were associated with compassion fatigue. These findings indicate that providing abortion services is a highly distressing experience for nurses and midwives.


Mizuno M, Kinefuchi E, Kimura R. Professional QOL of Japanese nurses/midwives providing abortion/childbirth care. Nurs Ethics January 17, 2013 0969733012463723

Relationship between nurses’ organizational trust levels and their organizational citizenship behaviors

Serap Altuntas, Ulku Baykal

Journal of Nursing Scholarship

Abstract | Purpose: This research used a descriptive and explorative design to determine the levels of nurses’ organizational trust and organizational citizenship and to investigate relationships between the levels of organizational trust and organizational citizenship behaviors.

Design and Methods: Nurses who had completed their orientation from a total of 11 hospitals with bed capacities of 100 and located in the European district of Istanbul were included in the sample for this study. Formal, written applications and approval of the ethical committee were obtained from concerned institutions before proceeding with the data collection step. The Organizational Trust Inventory and the Organizational Citizenship Level Scale, a questionnaire form including five questions regarding nurses’ personal characteristics, were used in data collection. Data collection tools were distributed to 900 nurses in total, and usable data were obtained from 482 nurses. Number and percentage calculations and Pearson correlation analysis were used to assess research data.

Findings: The results of the present research showed that nurses had a higher than average level of trust in their managers and coworkers and they trusted more in their managers and coworkers than their institutions. The Organizational Citizenship Level Scale indicated that the behavior most frequently demonstrated by the nurses was conscientiousness, followed by courtesy and civic virtue, whereas sportsmanship was displayed to an average extent. An analysis of relationships between nurses’ level of organizational trust and their organizational citizenship behaviors revealed that nurses who trust in their managers, institutions, and coworkers demonstrated the organizational citizenship behaviors of conscientiousness, civic virtue, courtesy, and altruism more frequently.

Conclusions: The findings attained in this study indicated that the organizational trust the staff had in their institutions, managers, and coworkers influenced the organizational citizenship behaviors of conscientiousness, civic virtue, altruism, and courtesy, whereas it had no effect on sportsmanship behavior. Nurse managers should introduce studies to improve their subordinates’ organizational trust to ensure that they develop organizational citizenship behaviors, and they should support them in this process.

Clinical Relevance: These topics for nursing services will provide guidance to managers, particularly to managers of nursing services, in establishing processes to predict nurses’ organizational commitment, job satisfaction, performance, intention to leave, and other relevant issues.


Altuntas S, Baykal U. Relationship between nurses’ organizational trust levels and their organizational citizenship behaviors. J Nurs Scholarsh. 2010 Jun;42(2):186-94.