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Parental Moral Distress and Moral Schism in the Neonatal ICU

Journal title
Journal of bioethical inquiry
Publication year
Foe, G.; Hellmann, J.; Greenberg, R. A.

Ethical dilemmas in critical care may cause healthcare practitioners to experience moral distress: incoherence between what one believes to be best and what occurs. Given that paediatric decision-making typically involves parents, we propose that parents can also experience moral distress when faced with making value-laden decisions in the neonatal intensive care unit. We propose a new concept-that parents may experience "moral schism"-a genuine uncertainty regarding a value-based decision that is accompanied by emotional distress. Schism, unlike moral distress, is not caused by barriers to making and executing a decision that is deemed to be best by the decision-makers but rather an encounter of significant internal struggle. We explore factors that appear to contribute to both moral distress and "moral schism" for parents: the degree of available support, a sense of coherence of the situation, and a sense of responsibility. We propose that moral schism is an underappreciated concept that needs to be explicated and may be more prevalent than moral distress when exploring decision-making experiences for parents. We also suggest actions of healthcare providers that may help minimize parental "moral schism" and moral distress.

Research abstracts