Developing an ethics support tool for dealing with dilemmas around client autonomy based on moral case deliberations

L. A. Hartman, S. Metselaar, A. C. Molewijk, H. M. Edelbroek, G. A. M. Widdershoven

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13 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Moral Case Deliberations (MCDs) are reflective dialogues with a group of participants on their own moral dilemmas. Although MCD is successful as clinical ethics support (CES), it also has limitations. 1. Lessons learned from individual MCDs are not shared in order to be used in other contexts 2. Moral learning stays limited to the participants of the MCD; 3. MCD requires quite some organisational effort, 4. MCD deals with one individual concrete case. It does not address other, similar cases (it is case based). These limitations warrant research into complementary ways of providing CES to healthcare professionals. Our research objective was therefore to develop a low threshold CES tool based on a series of MCDs on autonomy in long-term care. Methods: We used a qualitative research design in which we analyzed the process and content of a series of MCDs, combined with reflections on the theoretical background of MCD. In total 28 MCDs (10 transcripts and 18 summary reports) were analyzed by means of a thematic content analysis. In various rounds of development, the results of the analysis were combined with theoretical reflections on CES. Consequently, the tool was evaluated in three focus groups and adjusted. Results: The CES tool, called 'moral compass', guides the users through a series of six subsequent questions in order to methodically reflect on their concrete moral dilemma, in the form of a booklet of 23 pages. It combines a methodical element that encourages and structures a reflection process with a substantive element, including norms, values, options, strategies, and insights regarding dealing with client autonomy. Conclusion: By using data from a series of MCDs, combined with theoretical reflections on MCD, ethics support and moral learning, we developed a thematic, low-threshold CES tool that supports healthcare professionals in daily practice in dealing with moral questions regarding client autonomy. It integrates examples and insights from earlier MCDs on the same topic. The moral compass is not a replacement of, but can be used complementary to MCD. The feasibility and impact of the moral compass need to be investigated in an evaluative follow-up study. The methodology presented in this paper may be used to develop moral compasses on different topics in various healthcare organizations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number97
JournalBMC medical ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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