Nurses’ use of conscientious objection and the implications for conscience

Christina Lamb, Marilyn Evans, Yolanad Babenko-Mould, Carol Wong, Ken Kirkwood


Journal of Advanced Nursing

Aims: To explore the meaning of conscience for nurses in the context of conscientious objection (CO) in clinical practice. Design: Interpretive phenomenology was used to guide this study.

Data sources: Data were collected from 2016 ‐ 2017 through one‐on‐one interviews from eight nurses in Ontario. Iterative analysis was conducted consistent with interpretive phenomenology and resulted in thematic findings. Review methods: Iterative, phased analysis using line‐by‐line and sentence highlighting identified key words and phrases. Cumulative summaries of narratives thematic analysis revealed how nurses made meaning of conscience in the context of making a CO.

Impact: This is the first study to explore what conscience means to nurses, as shared by nurses themselves and in the context of CO. Nurse participants expressed that support from leadership, regulatory bodies, and policy for nurses’ conscience rights are indicated to address nurses’ conscience issues in practice settings.

Results: Conscience issues and CO are current, critical issues for nurses. For Canadian nurses this need has been recently heightened by the national legalization of euthanasia, known as Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada. Ethics education, awareness, and respect for nurses’ conscience are needed in Canada and across the profession to support nurses to address their issues of conscience in professional practice.

Conclusion: Ethical meaning emerges for nurses in their lived experiences of encountering serious ethical issues that they need to professionally address, by way of conscience‐based COs.

Lamb C, Evans M, Babenko-Mould Y, Wong C, Kirkwood Ken. Nurses’ use of conscientious objection and the implications for conscience. J Adv Nurs 2018 Oct 16. doi: 10.1111/jan.13869