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Moral distress in the pediatric intensive care unit: the impact on pediatric nurses

Joy Mekechuk (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)

Leadership in Health Services

ISSN: 1366-0756

Article publication date: 1 July 2006



The purpose of this paper is to explore the concept of moral distress in particular as it impacts on the pediatric intensive care nurse caught between caring for infants and children who would not otherwise be alive were it not for the advances of modern medical technology, and their personal beliefs concerning the societal value of life at any cost.


Describes cases and real incidents to illustrate the moral distress experienced by these nurses caught between caring for the children and at the same time interacting with the families. Such families are too often living on hope, with a profound faith in the ever advancing world of medical technology to keep loved ones alive with little thought to the consequences.


Suggests that the impact of moral distress on pediatric nurses, particularly as it relates to burnout, may well jeoparidize their ability to deliver effective care and is another unrecognized cost in the medical world.

Practical implications

Suggests that an ethical approach to care is necessary through hard to answer questions. Due to the fact that such questions are not often addressed, the author suggests consideration be given to medical ethicists to mediate and assist those caught in this dilemma.


This paper will be of value to those concerned with how medical and life‐saving technologies are outstripping our human abilities to comprehend and live with the consequences, and some of the ethical issues that arise.



Mekechuk, J. (2006), "Moral distress in the pediatric intensive care unit: the impact on pediatric nurses", Leadership in Health Services, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 1-6.



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Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited