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Truth telling and severe fetal diagnosis: a virtue ethics perspective

Journal title
The Journal of perinatal & neonatal nursing
Publication year
Black, B. P.

PURPOSE: Increased use of prenatal technologies has increased the numbers of women and partners whose fetus is diagnosed with a severe impairment. Virtue ethics provides a useful perspective to consider truth telling in this context, specifically how couples and providers interpret the diagnosis and prognosis to create truth. Virtue ethics is person-centered rather than act-centered, with moral actions guided by how a virtuous person would act in the same circumstance. Phronesis (practical wisdom) guides these actions. SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Fifteen women and 10 male partners with a severe fetal diagnosis participated in this longitudinal ethnography examining their experiences across 3 available care options: termination, routine obstetric care, and perinatal end-of-life care. Data from 39 interviews were analyzed to determine how they created meaning and truth in context of the diagnosis. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Providers’ interactions were usually, but not always, characterized by the practice of phronesis. Couples were in a more complex moral situation than were providers. Those who terminated created a socially acceptable truth within a negative social environment related to abortion. Those seeking routine care had uncertain fetal prognoses and struggled with the meanings of "odds" of survival. One couple with end-of-life care experienced a close alignment of the facts and the truth they made public.

Research abstracts