Benjamin Rabinowitz Assistant Professor in Medical Ethics in the Department of Philosophy's Program on Values in Society at the University of Washington in Seattle, and an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Bioethics and Humanities.
Moral distress, according to Andrew Jameton's highly influential definition, occurs when a nurse knows the morally correct action to take but is constrained in some way from taking this action. The definition of moral distress has been broadened, first, to include morally challenging situations that give rise to distress but which are not necessarily linked to nurses feeling constrained, such as those associated with moral uncertainty. Second, moral distress has been broadened so that it is not confined to the experiences of nurses. However, such a broadening of the concept does not mean that the kind of moral distress being experienced, or the role of the person experiencing it, is morally irrelevant. I argue that differentiating between categories of distress-e.g., constraint and uncertainty-and between groups of health professionals who might experience moral distress is potentially morally relevant and should influence the analysis, measurement, and amelioration of moral distress in the clinic.