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

Obligation to Safety

Even optimal planning and collaboration often can't eliminate ethical conflicts that may arise for nurses. These can arise partly because of nurses' obligation to maintain safety—for our patients and ourselves. Safety guides our duty to care, and we rely on organizations to provide the PPE and other resources we need to maintain safety. Scarce PPE puts nursing practice ethics to the test. We may need to reuse and adapt PPE, accepting the risks to our patients and ourselves, because the alternative is providing no care at all. In addition, a crisis surge can result in lack of access to standard resources such as ICU nurses, impairing our ability to adhere to the ethical principles we're used to, creating more conflict, which can lead to moral distress. (See Guiding ethical principles.)