Perils of proximity: A spatiotemporal analysis of moral distress and moral ambiguity

Elizabeth Peter, Joan Liaschenko

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137 Scopus citations


The physical nearness, or proximity, inherent in the nurse-patient relationship has been central in the discipline as definitive of the nature of nursing and its moral ideals. Clearly, this nearness is in service to those in need of care. This proximity, however, is not unproblematic because it contributes to two of the most prolonged difficulties, both for individual nurses and the discipline of nursing - moral distress and moral ambiguity. In this paper we explore proximity using both a moral and geographical lens and offer some insights regarding this practice reality. We examine the effect of proximity to patients on nurses' moral responsiveness, particularly as it affects nurses' moral distress. Proximity is paradoxical in this regard because, while it propels nurses to act, it can also propel nurses to ignore or abandon. Likewise, we argue that nursing's tendency to define itself in relation to the closeness of the nurse-patient relationship leads to problems of moral ambiguity. Our recommendations include moving others closer to the bedside and thus to the work of nursing in the literal and theoretical sense.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-225
Number of pages8
JournalNursing Inquiry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2004


  • Ethics
  • Feminist
  • Geography
  • Moral distress
  • Nurse-patient relationship


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