Heavy Burdens

Ethical Issues Faced by Military Nurses During a War

Deborah J. Kenny, PhD, RN, FAAN; Patricia Watts Kelley, PhD, FNP-BC, GNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN


Online J Issues Nurs. 2020;24(3) 

In This Article


The findings of moral distress and ethical issues in this study support the literature, but not in the same ways reported in previous articles. We found that many earlier studies presented certain aspects of ethical issues, but not a comprehensive picture (Mark et al., 2009; Scannell-Desch & Doherty, 2010; Thompson & Mastel-Smith, 2012). Our findings both support and expand on two important findings from an earlier study where the authors described ethical dilemmas regarding care for Iraqi patients and their transfer of care to a local facility (Goodman, Edge, Agazio, & Prue-Owens, 2013). In that study, Goodman et al. described nurses as feeling distressed about caring for Iraqi patients, but only that they felt bad about having to care for them. Our study provided a more detailed look at the nurses' feelings, and sometimes how they dealt with them.

This study supported the results of a study finding by Thompson and Mastel-Smith (2012) that nurses reported both a personal difficulty, but yet an inner satisfaction of caring for the enemy as human beings and doing their part to promote goodwill. However, this care was not without personal consequences, such as feelings of guilt over conflict within themselves. Nurses in this study expressed the notion that this difficulty made them stronger and better able to see both sides of war. Like the Civil War women described by Wood (1972), both male and female nurses who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan displayed a strength that may have surprised even them and a willingness to care for fellow humans, no matter the side.