An investigation of the ethical decision-making processes used by a select group of practicing perinatal nurses in Connecticut

Date of Completion

January 1989


Health Sciences, General|Health Sciences, Nursing




The purpose of this exploratory study of practicing perinatal nurses is threefold: (a) to break new ground by investigating the process of ethical decision-making; (b) to support Curtin's model (1982, 1978) for critical ethical analysis by providing a research base for the model (of which process is one component); and (c) to clarify the impact of recent technological advances on the ethical decision-making process. Using Curtin's 1982 model the specific research questions addressed are: (a) Can this model be further expanded with new knowledge and understanding by exploring the process used by nurse participants in making ethical decisions? (b) Is this model for making ethical decisions supported when investigated in a research study? (c) What ethical decisions are made by perinatal nurses given the recent technological advances?^ The primary methodology adopted in this study is grounded theory, developed by Glaser & Strauss (1967). Formal interviews were conducted with eleven currently practicing perinatal nurses employed by hospitals in Connecticut. The constant comparative method recommended by Glaser and Strauss was used to analyze the data.^ It was the underlying assumption of this study that there is an identifiable process used by perinatal nurses in making ethical decisions in their nursing practice. Many authors have proposed models for frameworks that "should" be used, but none have researched the process currently used. Curtin's model for critical ethical analysis was the framework for the study and new ground pertaining to the process component of this model was explored.^ The results of the analysis revealed that the process of ethical decision-making is comprised of four distinct processes (abstracting--made up of cognitive assessing and intuitive weighing, integrating/synthesizing, acting and evaluating) some of which may occur simultaneously. The process is not linear but is a series of processes which move one towards a decision. ^