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Soc Sci Med. 2004 Mar;58(6):1075-84.

Living with conflicts-ethical dilemmas and moral distress in the health care system.

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Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala Science Park, S-751 85, Uppsala, Sweden.


During the last decade, the Swedish health care system has undergone fundamental changes. The changes have made health care more complex and ethics has increasingly become a required component of clinical practice. Considering this, it is not surprising that many health care professionals suffer from stress-related disorders. Stress due to ethical dilemmas is usually referred to as "moral distress". The present article derives from Andrew Jameton's development of the concept of moral distress and presents the results of a study that, using focus group method, identifies situations of ethical dilemmas and moral distress among health care providers of different categories. The study includes both hospital clinics and pharmacies. The results show that all categories of staff interviewed express experiences of moral distress; prior research has mostly focused on moral distress experienced by nurses. Second, it was made clear that moral distress does not occur only as a consequence of institutional constraints preventing the health care giver from acting on his/her moral considerations, which is the traditional definition of moral distress. There are situations when the staff members do follow their moral decisions, but in doing so they clash with, e.g. legal regulations. In these cases too, moral distress occurs. Hitherto research on moral distress has focused on the individual health care provider and her subjective moral convictions. Our results show that the study of moral distress must focus more on the context of the ethical dilemmas. Finally, the conclusion of the study is that the work organization must provide better support resources and structures to decrease moral distress. The results point to the need for further education in ethics and a forum for discussing ethically troubling situations experienced in the daily care practice for both hospital and pharmacy staff.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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