Ethical conflicts develop during hospital emergency care

Lucas Imbernón FJ, Galán Traba MA, Roldán Ortega R

Affiliation of the authors

Servicio de Urgencias. Hospital General Universitario de Albacete. Complejo Hospitalario Universitario de Albacete, Spain. Servicio de Urgencias Hospital de Hellín. Albacete, Spain.



Lucas Imbernón FJ, Galán Traba MA, Roldán Ortega R. Ethical conflicts develop during hospital emergency care. Emergencias. 2011;23:283-92


Objective: To detect the presence of ethical conflicts arising in the course of care given

by the staff of emergency departments and to identify the most common conflicts faced.

Methods: Cross-sectional, descriptive study of bioethical issues facing physicians and

nurses and other health care staff of hospital emergency departments within the Health

Care Area of Albacete, by means of a 34-item specific questionnaire applying the

language of ethical principles.

Results: Ethical conflicts arise at work with ‘some frequency’ according to 66

respondents (57.9%); 85 respondents (75.2%) reported that they resolve the conflicts

with the help of a colleague. Ninety-three (81.6%) reported never having received

training in bioethics. The conflicts the respondents face most often involve end of life

(43.9%) and patient confidentiality (36.0%). Most respondents (76.8%) stated that

patients should be fully informed about the care process in order to safeguard

compliance with the principle of voluntary informed consent.

Conclusions: Bioethics should form part of the continuous professional development of

emergency health care professionals, who must often cope with ethical issues, which

they resolve by talking them over with a colleague. Clinical ethics committees should

develop models for resolving ethical problems that develop in the emergency setting,

specifically those that affect end of life and patient confidentiality.


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