Professional Challenges of Bedside Rationing in Intensive Care

Nursing Ethics 15 (6):715-728 (2008)

Abstract

As the pressure on available health care resources grows, an increasing moral challenge in intensive care is to secure a fair distribution of nursing care and medical treatment. The aim of this article is to explore how limited resources influence nursing care and medical treatment in intensive care, and to explore whether intensive care unit clinicians use national prioritization criteria in clinical deliberations. The study used a qualitative approach including participant observation and in-depth interviews with intensive care unit physicians and nurses working at the bedside. Scarcity of resources regularly led to suboptimal professional standards of medical treatment and nursing care. The clinicians experienced a rising dilemma in that very ill patients with a low likelihood of survival were given advanced and expensive treatment. The clinicians rarely referred to national priority criteria as a rationale for bedside priorities. Because prioritization was carried out implicitly, and most likely partly without the clinician's conscious awareness, central patient rights such as justice and equality could be at risk

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