Staff’s normative attitudes towards coercion: the role of moral doubt and professional context—a cross-sectional survey study: The role of moral doubt and professional context - A cross-sectional survey study

Bert Molewijk, A.A.L. Kok, Tonje Husum, Reidar Pedersen, Olaf Aasland

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41 Citations (Scopus)


The use of coercion is morally problematic and requires an ongoing critical reflection. We wondered if not knowing or being uncertain whether coercion is morally right or justified (i.e. experiencing moral doubt) is related to professionals’ normative attitudes regarding the use of coercion.

This paper describes an explorative statistical analysis based on a cross-sectional survey across seven wards in three Norwegian mental health care institutions.

Descriptive analyses showed that in general the 379 respondents a) were not so sure whether coercion should be seen as offending, b) agreed with the viewpoint that coercion is needed for care and security, and c) slightly disagreed that coercion could be seen as treatment. Staff did not report high rates of moral doubt related to the use of coercion, although most of them agreed there will never be a single answer to the question ‘What is the right thing to do?’.

Bivariate analyses showed that the more they experienced general moral doubt and relative doubt, the more one thought that coercion is offending. Especially psychologists were critical towards coercion. We found significant differences among ward types. Respondents with decisional responsibility for coercion and leadership responsibility saw coercion less as treatment. Frequent experience with coercion was related to seeing coercion more as care and security.

This study showed that experiencing moral doubt is related to some one’s normative attitude towards coercion. Future research could investigate whether moral case deliberation increases professionals’ experience of moral doubt and whether this will evoke more critical thinking and increase staff’s curiosity for alternatives to coercion.
Original languageEnglish
Article number37
JournalBMC medical ethics
Issue number37
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2017


  • Coercion
  • Critical reflection
  • Epistemic uncertainty
  • Ethics
  • Ethics support
  • Mental health care
  • Moral case deliberation
  • Moral doubt
  • Normative attitude

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