Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Mc Carthy, J
18th Nursing Ethics Conference
Three Decades of Moral Distress Research; so what?
Leuven, Belgium
Oral Presentation
Optional Fields
In 1984, Andrew Jameton, delineated the term, moral distress, in order to capture what he saw as a fundamental feature of the professional role of nurses. Jametonís account of moral distress focussed on the way in which external contraints, such as institutional policies and practices, can prevent nurses from acting in accordance with their personal and professional ethical values and his definition has largely informed the qualitative, quantitative and argument-based research that has been undertaken on moral distress in the last three decades. This research has found that the experience of moral distress among health professionals contributes to staff demoralization, desensitization and burnout and, ultimately, to lower standards of patient care. Despite the widespread deployment of Jametonís definition of moral distress in the empirical studies that have operationalized it, some authors have found fault with his delineation. The main objection to what I call the standard account of the term, moral distress, is that it does not pick out a discrete phenomenon or set of phenomena. Authors point to the absence of any agreement on the key features of the concept (e.g. it is too narrow or too broad) and, in turn, the difficulties that follow in devising tools to measure it adequately. In this presentation, I re-examine the standard definition of moral distress. I suggest that the important question is not, what is moral distress? But rather, who is talking about and researching moral distress and why are they interested in moral distress at this time? Given the increasing pressure on nurses and other health professionals worldwide to meet efficiency, financial and corporate targets and the implications of these for standards of patient care, I will argue that moral distress is best viewed as a conceptual tool that brings the emotional landscape of the moral realm to the fore and draws attention to the socio-political and contextual features of moral agency.