The history of nursing in the home: revealing the significance of place in the expression of moral agency


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Abstract

The relationship between place and moral agency in home care nursing is explored in this paper. The notion of place is argued to have relevance to moral agency beyond moral context. This argument is theoretically located in feminist ethics and human geography and is supported through an examination of historical documents (1900–33) that describe the experiences and insights of American home care/private duty nurses or that are related to nursing ethics. Specifically, the role of place in inhibiting and enhancing care, justice, good relationships, and power in the practice of private duty nurses is explored. Several implications for current nursing ethics come out of this analysis. (i) The moral agency of nurses is highly nuanced. It is not only structured by nurses' relationships to patients and health professionals, i.e. moral context, it is also structured by the place of nursing care. (ii) Place has the potential to limit and enhance the power of nurses. (iii) Some aspects of nursing's conception of the good, such as what constitutes a good nurse–patient relationship, are historically and geographically relative.

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