HEC Forum

Journal Information
ISSN / EISSN : 0956-2737 / 1572-8498
Published by: Springer Nature (10.1007)
Total articles ≅ 1,227
Current Coverage
Archived in

Latest articles in this journal

Published: 20 August 2021
HEC Forum, Volume 33, pp 307-324; https://doi.org/10.1007/s10730-021-09458-4

This special issue of HEC Forum includes articles on a wide range of specific topics that make significant contributions to conscientious objection scholarship. In this commentary, it is not feasible to provide a comprehensive analysis of each of the articles; and I have not attempted to do so. Instead, for each article, I have selected specific issues and arguments on which to comment.
Published: 15 July 2021
HEC Forum, Volume 33, pp 165-174; https://doi.org/10.1007/s10730-021-09457-5

The proper role of conscience in healthcare continues to be a topic of deep interest for bioethicists, healthcare professionals, and health policy experts. This issue of HEC Forum brings together a collection of articles about features of these ongoing discussions of conscience, advancing the conversations about conscience in healthcare from a variety of perspectives and on a variety of fronts. Some articles in this issue take up particularly challenging cases of conscientious objection in practice, such as Fleming, Frith, and Ramsayer’s contextually rich piece on midwives in Scotland or Harter’s professionally grounded analysis; others engage the changing institutional landscapes which impact considerations of conscience, such as Cummins’ work on the role of employers in institutional policies about conscience and Ben Moshe’s discussion of publicity and institutional committees. Pieces by Howard and Pilkington both raise conceptual considerations about how we think about the role of conscience in medicine, questioning the use of “conscientious objection” in these discussions, and Byrnes pushes back on the most influential work in this area by Mark Wicclair. The issue concludes with a piece by Wicclair, which engages each of these distinct offerings, further extending the discussions of conscience in healthcare and helpfully connecting key themes discussed by authors in this issue to his contributions and to the longer tradition of discussions of conscience in medicine. This issue challenges readers to engage different arguments from different perspectives and asks them—in some cases—to be open to revising how they think about the role of conscience and the existence of and justification for conscientious objection in the dynamic, interdisciplinary fields of healthcare.
Published: 12 July 2021
In an attempt to respond effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic, policy makers and scientific experts who advise them have aspired to present a unified front. Leveraging the authority of science, they have at times portrayed politically favored COVID interventions, such as lockdowns, as strongly grounded in scientific evidence—even to the point of claiming that enacting such interventions is simply a matter of “following the science.” Strictly speaking, all such claims are false, since facts alone never yield moral-political conclusions. More importantly, attempts to present a unified front have led to a number of other actions and statements by scientists and policy makers that erode the authority of science. These include actions and statements that: (1) mislead the public about epidemiological matters such as mortality rates, cause of death determinations, and computerized modeling, or fail to correct mainstream media sources that interpret such concepts in misleading ways; (2) incorporate moral-political opinions into ostensible statements of fact; and (3) misrepresent or misuse scientific expertise. The fundamental thesis of the paper is not primarily that such actions and statements have proliferated during the COVID-19 epidemic (though I think they have), but rather that they are unscientific and that presenting them as science undermines the authority of science. In the moral-political realm, the great power of science and the source of its authority derives from its agnosticism about fundamental moral-political claims. Science, for instance, has no built-in presumption that we should respect life, promote freedom, or practice toleration; nor does it tell us which of these values to prioritize when values conflict. Because of this agnosticism, science is recognized across a broad diversity perspectives as morally and politically impartial, and authoritative within its proper sphere. When it is infused with partisan bias, it loses that authority.
Published: 22 June 2021
One of the most significant and persistent debates in secular clinical ethics is the question of ethics expertise, which asks whether ethicists can make justified moral recommendations in active patient cases. A critical point of contention in the ethics expertise debate is whether there is, in fact, a bioethical consensus upon which secular ethicists can ground their recommendations and whether there is, in principle, a way of justifying such a consensus in a morally pluralistic context. In a series of recent articles in this journal, Janet Malek defends a positive view of ethics expertise, claiming that secular ethicists should comport their recommendations with bioethical consensus. In response, Nick Colgrove and Kelly Kate Evans deny the existence of a secular bioethical consensus; question why, even if it did exist, consensus should be considered a reliable way of resolving bioethical questions; and recommend a friendlier approach to clinical ethics based on the thought of H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr. In this article, I respond to Colgrove and Evans on all three points. In part one, I show there is a secular bioethical consensus but note it could be better consolidated and created through a more systematic and inclusive process. In part two, I argue that bioethical consensus is morally justified but note that this justification cannot be plausibly based upon claims that it only invokes moral principles available to or shared by all. In part three, I argue Engelhardt’s approach cannot be described as “friendlier” to clinical ethics because it is incompatible with many current healthcare laws and policies.
Published: 29 May 2021
Various types of health settings use clinical ethics committees (CEC) to deal with the ethical issues that confront both healthcare providers and their patients. Although these committees are now more common than ever, changes in the content of ethical dilemmas through the years is still a relatively unexplored area of research. The current study examines the major topics brought to the CEC of a psychiatric hospital in Israel and explores whether there were changes in their frequency across nearly three decades. The present paper reports on a thematic analysis of the written verbatim transcripts from 466 ethical topics brought to the CEC between the years 1991 and 2016. The following major topics related to ethical dilemmas were identified: confidentiality (30%), patient autonomy (23%), health records (14%), dual relationship (12%), allocation of resources (11%), inappropriate professional and personal conduct (9%), and multicultural sensitivity (1%). Topics related to confidentiality increased significantly over the years, as did inappropriate professional and personal conduct. In addition, the analysis showed that the content of the ethical cases and the resolutions suggested by the CEC also varied over the years. In conclusion, although most ethical topics have remained relatively stable over time, the discourse around them has evolved, requiring a dynamic assessment and reflection by the mental health practitioners serving as members of a CEC.
Published: 29 May 2021
Primary care providers (PCPs) report decreased job satisfaction and high levels of burnout, yet little is known about their experience of moral distress. The aim of this study was to gain insight into the experiences of PCPs regarding moral distress including causative factors and proposed mitigation strategies. This qualitative pilot study used semi-structured interviews to identify causes of moral distress in PCPs in an academic family medicine department. Interviews were analyzed using conventional content analysis. Of 35 eligible participants, 12 completed the study (34% participation rate). Most were white, female, and had practiced for less than 10 years. Four PCPs had considered leaving their position due to moral distress. Participants identified five causes of moral distress: policies and procedures that conflict with patient needs, the unpredictable nature of primary care, need to “bend the rules,” lack of accountability, and lack of support staff. Six internal conflicts made resolving morally distressing situations difficult: perceived powerlessness, sense of responsibility, socialization to follow orders, emotional toll of the job, competing obligations, and fear of mistakes. These findings matched themes in the current literature and identified an unbending infrastructure. This, coupled with the chaotic nature of primary care, resulted in frequent moral distress. Participants offered solutions to reduce and mitigate moral distress (also similar with current literature) and suggested moral distress and burnout are closely linked.
Published: 11 April 2021
Whether practiced by ethics committees or clinical ethicists, medical ethics enjoys a solid foundation in acute care hospitals. However, medical ethics fails to have a strong presence in the primary care setting. Recently, some ethicists have argued that the reason for this disparity between ethics in the acute and primary care setting is that primary care ethics is distinct from acute care ethics: the failure to translate ethics to the primary care setting stems from the incorrect belief that acute care ethics can be applied to the primary care setting. In this paper, I argue that primary care ethics and acute care ethics are species of the same ethical genus, and that the ethical differences are not ones of kind but of circumstance. I do this by appealing to the role obligations that underlie acute care and primary care clinicians’ medical ethical obligations and the shared institutions that ground those obligations.
Published: 3 April 2021
Background: Healthcare providers who are accountable for patient care safety and quality but who are not empowered to actualize them experience moral distress. Interventions to mitigate moral distress in the healthcare organization are needed. Objective: To evaluate the effect on moral distress and clinician empowerment of an established, health-system-wide intervention, Moral Distress Consultation. Methods: A quasi-experimental, mixed methods study using pre/post surveys, structured interviews, and evaluation of consult themes was used. Consults were requested by staff when moral distress was present. The purpose of consultation is to identify the causes of moral distress, barriers to action, and strategies to improve the situation. Intervention participants were those who attended a moral distress consult. Control participants were staff surveyed prior to the consult. Interviews were conducted after the consult with willing participants and unit managers. Moral distress was measured using the Moral Distress Thermometer. Empowerment was measured using the Global Empowerment Scale. Results: Twenty-one consults were conducted. Analysis included 116 intervention and 30 control surveys, and 11 interviews. A small but significant decrease was found among intervention participants, especially intensive care staff. Empowerment was unchanged. Interview themes support the consult service as an effective mode for open discussion of difficult circumstances and an important aspect of a healthy work environment. Conclusions: Moral distress consultation is an organization-wide mechanism for addressing moral distress. Consultation does not resolve moral distress but helps staff identify strategies to improve the situation. Further studies including follow up may elucidate consultation effectiveness.
Sarah Vittone,
Published: 28 March 2021
Moral distress is defined as the inability to act according to one’s own core values. During the COVID-19 pandemic, moral distress in medical personnel has gained attention, related to the impact of pandemic-associated factors, such as the uncertainty of treatment options for the virus and the accelerated pace of deaths. Measures to provide aid and mitigate the long-term pandemic effect on providers are starting to be designed. Yet, little has been said about the moral distress experienced by patients and the relational and additive effect on provider moral distress. Pandemic-associated factors affecting moral distress in patients include the constraining effects of isolation on spiritual and religious traditions as well as the intentional separation of patients from their families. This paper will explore the idea that patients are suffering their own moral distress and further how this impacts the intensity of moral distress experienced by the providers—nurses and physicians. The paucity of research in this area with the implications on patient’s distress, decision making, and distress experienced by providers compels further investigation and analysis.
Published: 23 March 2021
HEC Forum, Volume 33, pp 1-6; https://doi.org/10.1007/s10730-021-09448-6

The essays in this special issue of HEC Forum provide reflections that make explicit the implicit anthropology that our current pandemic has brought but which in the medical ethics literature around COVID-19 has to a great extent ignored. Three of the essays are clearly “journalistic” as a literary genre: one by a hospital chaplain, one by a medical student in her pre-clinical years, and one by a fourth-year medical student who reports her experience as she completed her undergraduate clerkships and applied for positions in graduate medical education. Other essays explore the pandemic from historical, sociological, and economic perspectives, particularly how triage policies have been found to be largely blind to structural healthcare disparities, while simultaneously unable to appropriately address those disparities. Central issues that need to be addressed in triage are not just whether a utilitarian response is the most just response, but what exactly is the greatest good for the greatest number? Together, the essays in this special issue of HEC Forum create a call for a more anthropological approach to understanding health and healthcare. The narrow approach of viewing health as resulting primarily from healthcare will continue to hinder advances and perpetuate disparities. Health outcomes result from a complex interaction of various social, economic, cultural, historical, and political factors. Advancing healthcare requires contextualizing the health of populations amongst these factors. The COVID-19 pandemic has made us keenly aware of how interdependent our health as a society can be.
Back to Top Top