Ethical dilemmas in the care of patients with incurable cancer

Nurs Ethics. 1998 Jul;5(4):283-93. doi: 10.1177/096973309800500402.


This article aims to identify and describe the ethical dilemmas that are involved in the care of patients with incurable cancer. The data were collected in semistructured focused interviews with 32 patients, 13 nurses and 13 doctors from two central hospitals and four community health centres. The interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Interpretation was based on the method of content analysis. Ethical dilemmas occurred at the time of diagnosis, in connection with telling the truth, in providing information, in the treatment of pain, and in decision-making situations concerning active treatment. Dilemmas of active treatment concerned chemotherapy, intravenous infusions, blood transfusions and antibiotics. There were also problems in relationships between nursing staff and next of kin, as well as a lack of co-operation between nurses and doctors.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Ethics, Nursing*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Futility*
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / nursing*
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Research
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminal Care / psychology*
  • Withholding Treatment