Addressing harm in moral case deliberation: the views and experiences of facilitators

BMC Medical Ethics 21 (1):1-11 (2020)
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In healthcare practice, care providers are confronted with decisions they have to make, directly affecting patients and inevitably harmful. These decisions are tragic by nature. This study investigates the role of Moral Case Deliberation in dealing with tragic situations. In MCD, caregivers reflect on real-life dilemmas, involving a choice between two ethical claims, both resulting in moral damage and harm. One element of the reflection process is making explicit the harm involved in the choice. How harmful are our decisions? We investigated how facilitators of MCD experience the importance of addressing harm in MCD and what participants learn from reflecting on harm. The study was qualitative, focusing on the views and experiences of the facilitators of MCD. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with facilitators of MCD. The research focuses on the subjective experiences of facilitators. Grounded Theory was used for analysis. The results show two main categories. The first concerns the awareness of tragedy. Within this category, five themes were discerned: making explicit that there is no solution, visualizing consequences, uncovering pain, focusing on emotion, and exploring perspectives on harm. The second category concerns the support for healthcare professionals in dealing with the tragedy of the choices they face. In this category, five themes came forward: acknowledging, offering comfort, managing harm, consideration through dialogue and repairing harm. Our study shows that addressing harm in MCD in tragic situations provides an important moral learning opportunity for participants. By formulating and becoming aware of harm, MCD aids healthcare professionals in the task they are faced with, namely making difficult and painful choices. MCD helps healthcare professionals to repair moral damage, making clear at the same time that harm cannot be undone.



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Guy Widdershoven
VU University Amsterdam