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EXPERTS’ OPINION   Freefree

Minerva Anestesiologica 2020 April;86(4):455-60

DOI: 10.23736/S0375-9393.19.14021-7

Copyright © 2019 EDIZIONI MINERVA MEDICA

language: English

Moral distress in the ICU: it’s time to do something about it!

Franco A. CARNEVALE

Ingram School of Nursing, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada



Moral distress is a major concern among healthcare professionals (HCPs). In the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), moral distress can result from: 1) disagreements within the ICU team regarding life-sustaining treatments; 2) critical illnesses that result in tragic choices regarding treatment planning; 3) circumstances that require rapid decisions and actions without adequate consideration of all morally meaningful concerns; 4) tensions with administrators; and 5) legal standards that define the decisional authority that should be held by patients and families or which forms of end-of-life care are permissible. An impressive body of research literature has highlighted the prevalence of moral distress among HCPs (including ICU HCPs), health impacts of moral distress, as well as personal and contextual factors that are strong predictors of moral distress. However, there is a paucity of knowledge on effective ways to address moral distress. Yet, action is needed because many ICU HCPs are experiencing significant moral distress. This article outlines strategies that could be used to help diminish moral distress, drawing on the available literature. These strategies include: 1) Listen attentively to your colleagues’ moral distress; 2) shift the focus from moral distress to moral agency; 3) promote ethically-attuned discussion and education (drawing on discussion models that can help reconcile diverse ethical viewpoints or disagreements); and 4) provide personal supports for HCPs. Research is urgently needed to further examine which strategies are most effective for addressing moral distress in ICU settings as well as other clinical contexts.


KEY WORDS: Psychological distress; Intensive care units; Expert testimony

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