by Guest Blogger Darcy Copeland
Ethics of Caring ®– the 6th National Nursing Ethics Conference was held at the University of California, Los Angeles March 21-22. The theme of this year’s conference was Vulnerability and Presence: An invitation to explore the intersection of vulnerability and the power of presence. The two days were packed with keynote, plenary, breakout sessions and case discussions.
Joan Liaschenko delivered the opening keynote session: “The Moral Work of Nursing, Vulnerability, and Moral Community.” The moral work of nursing involves acting for patients, helping patients have a life, and advocacy and relationship with others is the vehicle for nursing, our instrument. Attendees were challenged to transform our work environments into moral communities. We are all vulnerable to the actions of others. Nursing has a very important role in healthcare and we must hold others accountable to take our concerns seriously because our part is just as important as any other.
Denise Dudzinski then led a discussion, “Tackling Moral Distress with the Moral Distress Map”. Nurses are susceptible to moral distress in part because of our strong commitment to the wellbeing of others. We have a heightened sense of moral responsibility – and in general, we have more responsibility in our work than we do authority. Our moral responsibility coming into contact with powerlessness can result in moral distress. A challenging situation an audience member experienced was used to walk through the steps of a moral map: identifying emotions, sources, constraints, conflicting responsibilities, possible actions, and final action.
Amy Haddad, a Hastings Center Fellow, described the poetry of witness and confessional writing in her closing, “Can You Describe This? Bearing Witness to Vulnerability”. In sharing some of her own poetry she illustrated what is means to bear witness to the suffering of others. Powerful examples of vulnerability from the perspectives of patients and providers were read, and felt, through the medium of poetry.
Kathy Brown-Saltzman led a discussion with Marsha Fowler who described her love affair with the ANA Code of Ethics. She shared her personal journey to her ethics and spirituality work in nursing and inspired us all to envision the Code of Ethics as a document capable of guiding us in virtually any situation in which we find ourselves.
Jay Baruch, an assistant professor of medicine and author, described caring for others as caring for their stories during “Can We Write a Better Story for Ourselves”. He embodied the conference’s vulnerability theme by sharing excerpts from some of his own, unpublished stories.
Daniel Goldberg, a historian and public health ethicist, connected the dots between stigma and vulnerability with “Vulnerability, Ethics, and Nursing: Considering Health Stigma”. Stigmatization results in certain groups of people experiencing worse morbidity and mortality outcomes when compared to groups who are not stigmatized. It is antithetical to our professional values. Despite these both being the case, stigmatization of patient groups by providers is common. The complexity of this structural/social phenomenon was discussed.
In between these phenomenal presentations were two case based small group discussions and a variety of break-out sessions focused on moral distress, vulnerability, stigma, healthcare ethics consultation, and the power and uses of stories and poetry.
Thank you to all members of the planning committee for putting together a truly remarkable conference.