Human love – the inner essence of nursing ethics according to Estrid Rodhe. A study using the approach of history of ideas

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The aim of this study is to describe the idea pattern of nursing ethics in the textbook written by the Swedish nurse Estrid Rodhe (1911). The purpose is to increase understanding of the ideas in early written history of nursing ethics by using the method of history of ideas. A theoretical premise, but also a fascinating factor in this study, is that the ethics of one profession is always contextual in relation to current period. The historical context of Rodhe's time was a time of difficult societal circumstances in Europe. Nurses’ work was demanding, but a distinctive feature was enthusiasm to develop nursing. Discussion of the moral issues of nursing was intense, and the characteristics of a good nurse consisted of being as altruistic and unselfish woman. Based on our analysis, the inner essence of Rodhe's idea pattern consists of human love. It is reflected in her ideas of calling-based altruism, virtuous woman as a personal reason for being a nurse and nurses’ ethical duty to implementation and subservience. Rodhe's thinking reflects the conventions of her time. The role of personal moral characteristics of nurses was highlighted and not viewed as separable from the professional. Her textbook represented nursing knowledge of ethics written by a nurse and making her a pioneer of the early written history of nursing in general. Understanding the past helps us comprehend current issues in nursing and makes visible cultural values that form the basis for today and tomorrow. It also provides a possibility to observe the same fundamental features in spite of temporal distance. Here, the history of ideas is a beneficial and fruitful method to increase our understanding of nursing ethics.

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