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Ethics as a lifelong project

An Australian academic has spoken of the importance of nurses being aware of developments that may test nursing ethics – such as the current refugee crisis.

Professor Megan-Jane Johnstone, from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Deakin University, said: “There are issues that are emerging every day in relation to the refugee crisis that raise huge questions for the profession in terms of its long-standing commitment to social justice and humanitarian concerns.”

She added one of the things she has tried to do in a forthcoming volume of work on nursing ethics to draw together a small collection of foundation articles that strongly suggest nursing ethics is a lifelong project and should focus on broader social justice and humanitarian concerns.

This month, Johnstone will release Nursing Ethics, a three-volume work of more than 1000 pages, that brings together foundational articles on ethics and the nursing profession.

Johnstone said: “While [nurses] are at the forefront of caring for other people who may not share our values and beliefs, we need to make sure that we have very well-developed, exquisite critical thinking, excellent thinking around the issues that we have to deal with and that we are in the best position to make morally sound judgments and decisions in our practice."

She added research has consistently shown that historically nurses have tended to make ethical decisions based on their own personal values, beliefs, and biases, not on a systematic inquiry or through systematic decision-making processes.

“[This] is a bit concerning,” she said. “Now, it's not to say that nurses haven't been sincere in what they've decided, but as we well know and as history can show readily, even though beliefs may be sincerely held they can nonetheless be wrong.

“Nurses need to be aware that while they may have strong values and beliefs they need to test those values and beliefs against other considerations, including strong, robust foundational theories of ethics.”

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