Moral distress among nurses involved in life-prolonging treatments in patients with a short life expectancy: A qualitative interview study

Patient Educ Couns. 2022 Jul;105(7):2531-2536. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2022.01.017. Epub 2022 Jan 31.


Objective: To explore whether nurses in hospital settings experience moral distress when involved in potentially life-prolonging treatments in adults with a short life expectancy.

Methods: A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews.

Results: 23 Registered nurses working in inpatient or outpatient hospital settings participated. The nurses stated they were often not involved in decisions regarding life-prolonging treatments. They reported signs of moral distress such as feeling powerless when they when they were not being listened to in the decision-making process and when confronted with negative treatment outcomes. Nurses felt frustrated when their own values were not reflected in the decision-making or when physicians created unrealistic expectations.

Conclusions: Hospital nurses experience moral distress when they are involved in life-prolonging treatment because of the patient's advanced condition and their own lack of involvement in the decision-making process about the treatment. In these situations, moral distress is characterised by feelings of powerlessness and frustration.

Practice implications: Nurses need to be empowered by training programmes that focus on an active role in the decision-making process. Further research is needed to evaluate effective tools and training programmes that help nurses in shared decision-making processes.

Keywords: End-of-life-care; Hospital nurses; Inpatient; Life-prolonging treatment; Moral distress; Outpatient; Palliative care; Shared decision-making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Morals
  • Nurses*
  • Physicians*
  • Qualitative Research