Conceptualizing the impact of moral case deliberation: a multiple-case study in a health care institution for people with intellectual disabilities

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Background: As moral case deliberations (MCDs) have increasingly been implemented in health care institutions as a form of ethics support, it is relevant to know whether and how MCDs actually contribute to positive changes in care. Insight is needed on what actually happens in daily care practice following MCD sessions. This study aimed at investigating the impact of MCD and exploring how ‘impact of MCD’ should be conceptualized for future research. Methods: A multiple-case study was conducted in a care organization for people with intellectual disabilities and/or acquired brain injury, by observing MCD sessions as ‘cases’, followed by interviews with health care professionals concerning the follow-up to these cases, and a focus group with involved MCD facilitators. A conceptual scheme concerning the possible impact formed the basis for analysis: (1) individual moral awareness; (2) the actions of health care professionals; (3) collaboration among health care professionals; (4) the concrete situation of the client; (5) the client’s quality of care and life; (6) the organizational and policy level. Results: According to interviewees, their moral awareness and their collaboration, both among colleagues and with clients’ relatives, improved after MCD. Perceived impact on client situation, quality of care/life and the organizational level varied among interviewees or was difficult to define or link to MCD. Three aspects were added to the conceptual scheme concerning the impact of MCD: (a) preparations and expectations prior to the MCD session; (b) a translational step between the conclusions of the MCD session and practical events in the following period, and (c) collaboration with clients’ relatives. A negative impact of MCD was also found on misunderstandings among participants and disappointment about lack of follow-up. Conclusions: Concretizing and conceptualizing the ‘impact’ of MCD is complicated as many factors play a role either before or during the transition from MCD to practice. It is important to consider ‘impact’ in a broad sense and to relate it to the goals and context of the MCD in question. Future studies in this field should pay additional attention to the preparations, content and process involved in ethics support, including clients’ and relatives’ experiences.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10
JournalBMC medical ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Evaluation
  • Impact
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Moral case deliberation

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