Recognizing Ethical Issues Experienced by Maternal Nurses and Their Need for Ethics Education

Tuesday, 10 November 2015: 9:10 AM

Gayle Taylor, EdD, MSN, RNC, CNL, CCE
College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, GA, USA

                Ethical issues, experienced daily by maternal nurses, can be uniquely specific and may involve the inadequacy of workplace resources to help resolve human rights issues.  Recognizing patients’ rights and respecting human dignity should be a universal belief held by all nurses, but the need for ethics education for maternal nurses may include specific issues not found in other areas of nursing.   Issues recognized as important for maternal nurses are; substance abuse during pregnancy, impaired neonates and their rights, cultural belief practices concerning neonatal resuscitation, a lack of proper ethics education for the nursing staff, and religious beliefs.  Issues critical to maternal patients are; abortion rights, the right to life of the fetus, a woman’s right to control her own body, and choosing to carry a pregnancy to full term.

            Even experienced maternal nurses continue to be perplexed by ethical questions.  Should a court order be obtained to force pregnant women to comply with healthcare policies?  Should women who abuse drugs while pregnant be legally charged with abusing the fetus?   When presented with a pregnant woman in a critical state of health, who has the primary right to life, the woman or her baby?  A study conducted by Boston College demonstrated that maternal nurses are bombarded with ethical situations on a daily basis for which they are not educationally prepared.  Learning to deal with ethical issues can prove to be of primary importance for these nurses.  Heinz R. Pagels (1988) stated “Science cannot resolve moral conflicts, but it can help to more accurately frame the debates around those conflicts”.  Nurses have a right to receive ethics education, and more importantly, that education needs to contain universal knowledge as well as specific workplace resources.