Ethics in a Pandemic

Laura Webster, DBE, RN, HEC-C, CEN; Lucia D. Wocial, PhD, RN, FAAN, HEC-C


Am Nurs Journal. 2020;15(9) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Nurses need to engage in self-care to reduce moral distress.


  • The COVID-19 pandemic brings many ethical dilemmas for nurses and their patients.

  • The ethical framework used during a crisis remains significantly different than in a normal state.

  • This article provides an overview of the ethical framework used in crisis standards of care and begins to explore methods to support identifying and addressing moral distress at the bedside.

Disasters, including global pandemics such as COVID-19, disrupt standard care and present ethical challenges. Planning helps us prepare for disasters, but it can't eliminate the ethical dilemmas and moral distress that clinicians will face. Staffing and supply shortages and patient surges require nurses and other healthcare providers to make decisions that may not align with standard care but are necessary under the circumstances. Familiarity with the ethical foundations for shifting standards of care will help nurses navigate moral distress and achieve some degree of resilience during challenging times.