Nurses’ refusals of patient involvement in their own palliative care

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  • Stinne Glasdam, Lund University
  • ,
  • Charlotte Bredahl Jacobsen, University College Copenhagen
  • ,
  • Hanne Bess Boelsbjerg

Background: Ideas of patient involvement are related to notions of self-determination and autonomy, which are not always in alignment with complex interactions and communication in clinical practice. Aim: To illuminate and discuss patient involvement in routine clinical care situations in nursing practice from an ethical perspective. Method: A case study based on an anthropological field study among patients with advanced cancer in Denmark. Ethical considerations: Followed the principles of the Helsinki Declaration. Findings: Two cases illustrated situations where nurses refused patient involvement in their own case. Discussion: Focus on two ethical issues, namely ‘including patients’ experiences in palliative nursing care’ and ‘relational distribution of power and knowledge’, inspired primarily by Hannah Arendt’s concept of thoughtlessness and a Foucauldian perspective on the medical clinic and power. The article discusses how patients’ palliative care needs and preferences, knowledge and statements become part of the less significant background of nursing practice, when nurses have a predefined agenda for acting with and involvement of patients. Both structurally conditioned ‘thoughtlessness’ of the nurses and distribution of power and knowledge between patients and nurses condition nurses to set the agenda and assess when and at what level it is relevant to take up patients’ invitations to involve them in their own case. Conclusion: The medical and institutional logic of the healthcare service sets the framework for the exchange between professional and patient, which has an embedded risk that ‘thoughtlessness’ appears among nurses. The consequences of neglecting the spontaneous nature of human action and refusing the invitations of the patients to be involved in their life situation call for ethical and practical reflection among nurses. The conditions for interaction with humans as unpredictable and variable challenge nurses’ ways of being ethically attentive to ensure that patients receive good palliative care, despite the structurally conditioned logic of healthcare.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNursing Ethics
Pages (from-to)1618-1630
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

    Research areas

  • nurse refusals, palliative care, Patient involvement, power, thoughtlessness

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