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Ethical Considerations for Perinatal Toxicology Screening

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Neonatal nurses frequently care for babies who have been exposed in utero to potentially harmful substances, both licit and illicit. The risks to the fetus from nicotine, marijuana, alcohol, and opiates are significant. Adverse effects from environmental factors may confound pharmacologic effects of substances. Nurses are called to shift the perception of substance use disorder from that of willful harm to the fetus to that of an opportunity to provide treatment assistance that can positively affect child health and development. Concerns for unethical practices in the toxicology screening of pregnant women and their babies by risk factors that are unproven or disproven are discussed, and three goals of toxicology screening based on the ethical principles of justice and beneficence are proposed. This article will help equip neonatal nurses to fulfill their professional responsibility to advocate for just screening and referral practices in their institutions and communities.
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Keywords: ETHICS; MENTAL HEALTH; NEONATAL ABSTINENCE SYNDROME; SUBSTANCE ABUSE; TOXICOLOGY; UNIVERSAL SCREENING

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Mount Carmel West Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, USA

Publication date: September 1, 2016

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