Conflicts of conscience in the neonatal intensive care unit: Perspectives of Alberta

Nursing Ethics 25 (8):992-1003 (2018)
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Background: Limited knowledge of the experiences of conflicts of conscience found in nursing literature. Objectives: To explore the individual experiences of a conflict of conscience for neonatal nurses in Alberta. Research design: Interpretive description was selected to help situate the findings in a meaningful clinical context. Participants and research context: Five interviews with neonatal nurses working in Neonatal Intensive Care Units throughout Alberta. Ethical consideration: Ethics approval from the Health Research Ethics Board at the University of Alberta. Findings: Three common themes emerged from the interviews: the unforgettable conflict with pain and suffering, finding the nurse’s voice, and the unique proximity of nurses. Discussion and conclusion: The nurses described a conflict of conscience when the neonate in their care experienced undermanaged pain and unnecessary suffering. During these experiences, they felt guilty, sad, hopeless, and powerless when they were unable to follow their conscience. Informal ways to follow their conscience were employed before declaration of conscientious objection was considered. This study highlights the vital importance of respecting a conflict of conscience to maintain the moral integrity of neonatal nurses and exposes the complexities of conscientious objection.



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