Background: Moral distress is an important and well-studied phenomenon among nurses and other healthcare providers, yet the conceptualization of parental moral distress remains unclear.
Objective: The objective of this dimensional analysis was to describe the nature of family moral distress in serious pediatric illness.
Design and methods: A dimensional analysis of articles retrieved from a librarian-assisted systematic review of Scopus, CINAHL, and PsychInfo was conducted, focusing on how children, parents, other family members, and healthcare providers describe parental moral distress, both explicitly through writings on parental moral experience and implicitly through writings on parental involvement in distressing aspects of the child’s serious illness.
Ethical considerations: To promote child and family best interest and minimize harm, a nuanced understanding of the moral, existential, emotional, and spiritual impact of serious pediatric illness is needed. The cases used in this dimensional analysis come from the first author’s IRB approved study at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and subsequent published studies; or have been adapted from the literature and the authors’ clinical experiences.
Findings: Three dimensions emerged from the literature surrounding parent moral distress: an intrapersonal dimension, an interpersonal dimension, and a spiritual/existential dimension. The overarching theme is that parents experience relational solace and distress because of the impact of their child’s illness on relationships with themselves, their children, family, healthcare providers, their surrounding communities, and society.
Discussion: Elucidating this concept can help nurses and other professionals understand, mitigate, or eliminate antecedents to parental moral distress. We discuss how this model can facilitate future empirical and conceptual bioethics research, as well as inform the manner in which healthcare providers engage, collaborate with, and care for families during serious pediatric illness.
Conclusion: Parent moral distress is an important and complex phenomenon that requires further theoretical and empirical investigation. We provide an integrated definition and dimensional schematic model that may serve as a starting point for future research and dialogue.