Struggling with the fragility of life: A relational-narrative approach to ethics in palliative nursing

Tineke A. Abma*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


In nursing ethics the role of narratives and dialogue has become more prominent in recent years. The purpose of this article is to illuminate a relational-narrative approach to ethics in the context of palliative nursing. The case study presented concerns a difficult relationship between oncology nurses and a husband whose wife was hospitalized with cancer. The husband's narrative is an expression of depression, social isolation and the loss of hope. He found no meaning in the process of dying and death. The oncology nurses were not able to recognize his emotional and existential problems. A narrative perspective inspired by relational ethics indicates that participants may develop a relational narrative that seeks good for all involved in a situation. In palliative nursing this entails open communication about the fragility of life and approaching death. In relational narratives, answers to these ethical dilemmas are co-authored, contingent and contextual.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-348
Number of pages12
JournalNursing Ethics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2005

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