Beyond caring: the moral and ethical bases of responsive nurse–patient relationships
Although we theorize that nurses ‘make a difference’ to patient outcomes and speculate that this happens because nurses ‘care’, there is so far little evidence to support this nebulous claim. Efforts to promote care as the defining characteristic of nursing, and an ‘ethic of care’ as the ethical basis of nursing, have sparked debate within the discipline. This debate has resulted in a polarization that has effectively stalled productive discourse on the issues. Moreover, the focus on care has been at the expense of understanding the true nature of the relationship between caring and the broader base of ethical knowledge that underpins nursing and that must underpin nursing if it is a viable practice profession. This paper used the framework of philosophical argument to explore the moral and ethical foundations of nursing from the perspective of personal and public morals, and responsive nurse–patient relationships as the reflection of ethical nursing knowledge. The foundation of ethical nursing knowledge is the personal moral sense that resides within the individual and that nurses hold in common with others. Personal moral knowledge is transformed into disciplinary ethical knowledge specific to nursing through disciplinary consensus. Responsive relationships are conceptualized in the nursing literature as founded on three essential elements: respect, trust, and mutuality. These three elements are grounded in ethical nursing knowledge; therefore responsive nurse–patient relationships reflect both personal moral knowledge and disciplinary ethical knowledge. By facilitating the articulation of ethical nursing knowledge in practice, responsive relationships connect theory, ethical knowledge, and clinical outcomes.