American Journal of Bioethics.

Moral Distress in Clinical Ethics: Expanding the Concept

As physician ethicists, we often receive consultations where there is no clear ethical question, but rather, discomfort around value judgments. We have struggled to articulate the meaning of colleagues’ morally uncomfortable experiences. The traditional definition of moral distress is quite restrictive and offers no vocabulary for our observations. Clinicians know something is wrong and that it might be of a moral nature. However, they don’t know the “right” thing to do, and the institution isn’t preventing them from acting. In our practice, most ethics consults do not have “right” answers, but they almost universally have people struggling with moral unease. The currently available vocabulary does not leave room for this milieu. For lack of better terms, we have referred to these as “moral distress-lite”: not quite destructive to moral integrity and not intractable in the situation, but unsettling enough that they deserve thoughtful attention, exploration and, when possible, mediation and resolution.

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Volume 16, Issue 12
December 2016

Target Articles.

A Broader Understanding of Moral Distress Stephen M. Campbell, Connie M. Ulrich & Christine Grady
Does Lack of “Genetic-Relative Family Health History” Represent a Potentially Avoidable Health Disparity for Adoptees? Thomas May, Kimberly A. Strong, Kaija L. Zusevics, Jessica Jeruzal, Michael H. Farrell, Alison LaPean Kirschner, Arthur R. Derse, James P. Evans & Harold D. Grotevant


Moral Distress in Clinical Ethics: Expanding the Concept Alyssa M. Burgart & Katherine E. Kruse