Original Research

Virtue ethics: an approach to moral dilemmas in nursing

E Arries
Curationis | Vol 28, No 3 | a990 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/curationis.v28i3.990 | © 2005 E Arries | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 September 2005 | Published: 28 September 2005

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E Arries, School of nursing, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

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Nurses are increasingly confronted with situations of moral difficulty, such as not to feed terminally ill patients, whistle blowing, or participation in termination of pregnancy. Most of these moral dilemmas are often analyzed using the principle-based approach which applies the four moral principles of justice, autonomy, beneficence, and nonmalificence. In some instances, consequentialism is considered, but these frameworks have their limitations. Their limitations has to do with a consideration for the interpersonal nature of clinical nursing practice on the one hand, and is not always clear on how to judge which consequences are best on the other hand. When principles are in conflict it is not always easy to decide which principle should dominate. Furthermore, these frameworks do not take into account the importance of the interpersonal and emotional element of human experience. On the contrary, decision making about moral issues in healthcare demands that nurses exercise rational control over emotions. This clearly focuses the attention on the nurse as moral agent and in particular their character.
In this article I argue that virtue ethics as an approach, which focus of the character of a person, might provide a more holistic analysis of moral dilemmas in nursing and might facilitate more flexible and creative solutions when combined with other theories of moral decision-making. Advancing this argument, firstly, I provide the central features of virtue ethics. Secondly I describe a story in which a moral dilemma is evident. Lastly I apply virtue ethics as an approach to this moral dilemma and in particular focusing on the virtues inherent in the nurse as moral agent in the story.


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