The normative and evaluative status of moral distress in health care contexts

Sven Nyholm

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/Letter to the editorAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Stephen Campbell, Connie Ulrich, and Christine Grady argue that we need to a broader understanding of moral distress – broader, that is, than the one commonly used within nursing-ethics and, more recently, healthcare ethics in general. On their proposed definition, moral distress is any self-directed negative attitude we might have in response to viewing ourselves as participating in a morally undesirable situation. While being in general agreement with much of what Campbell et al. say, I make two suggestions. First, in order to distinguish moral distress that is specifically related to the roles and responsibilities of healthcare-workers from other kinds of moral distress, it would be useful for the broadened definition to contain an explicit reference to the distinctive situation and challenges faced by healthcare-workers. Second, whereas Campbell et al. write in a manner that suggests that there is very little that is positive or redeeming about moral distress, we should also ask if there is anything morally good about such distress. I suggest that the disposition to respond with moral distress to situations that call for it can plausibly be seen as a virtue on the part of healthcare-workers. The moral value of responses of appropriate moral distress is positive (because it is a display of virtue on the part of the healthcare-worker), whereas the state of affairs that moral distress is called for is bad and regrettable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-19
Number of pages3
JournalThe American Journal of Bioethics
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2016


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