Moral Agency, Moral Imagination, and Moral Community:
Antidotes to Moral Distress
Terri Traudt, Joan Liaschenko, and Cynthia Peden-McAlpine
Moral distress has been covered extensively in the nursing literature and increasingly in the literature of other health professions. Cases that cause nursesí moral distress that are mentioned most frequently are those concerned with prolonging the dying process. Given the standard of aggressive treatment that is typical in intensive care units (ICUs), much of the existing moral distress research focuses on the experiences of critical care nurses. However, moral distress does not automatically occur in all end-of-life circumstances, nor does every critical care nurse suffer its damaging effects. What are the practices of these nurses? What specifically do they do to navigate around or through the distressing situations? The nursing literature is lacking an answer to these questions. This article reports a study that used narrative analysis to explore the reported practices of experienced critical care nurses who are skilled at and comfortable working with families and physicians regarding the withdrawal of aggressive treatment. A major finding was that these nurses did not report experiencing the damaging effects of moral distress as described in the nursing literature. The verbal communication and stated practices relevant to this finding are organized under three major themes: (1) moral agency, (2) moral imagination, and (3) moral community. Further, a total of eight subthemes are identified. The practices that constitute these themes and subthemes are further detailed and discussed in this article. Understanding these practices can help mitigate critical care nursesí moral distress.
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