Background: Most undergraduate midwifery curricula comprise ethics courses to strengthen the moral competences of future midwives. By contrast, surprisingly little is known about the specific moral competences considered to be relevant for midwifery practice. Describing these competences not only depends on generic assumptions about the moral nature of midwifery practice but also reflects which issues practitioners themselves classify as moral.
Objective: The goal of this study was to gain insight into the ethical issues midwives encounter in their daily work, the key competences and resources they consider indispensable to understand and deal with them, and to assess phenomena linked to moral distress.
Methods: We conducted individual semi-structured interviews with eight midwives and two other health professionals, varying in terms of years of experience and work setting. Interview transcripts were analyzed in an interdisciplinary research group, following thematic analysis.
Ethical considerations: This study was not subject to approval according to the Swiss Law on Research with Humans. Participants were informed about the study goals and gave written informed consent prior to participation.
Results: External constraints limiting the midwife’s and the patient’s autonomy and resulting interpersonal conflicts were found to be the most relevant ethical issues encountered in clinical practice and were most often associated with moral distress. These conflicts often arise in the context of medical interventions midwives consider as not appropriate and situations in which less experienced midwives in particular observe a lack of both interprofessional communication and trust in their professional competence. Ethical issues related to late abortions or prenatal diagnostics and selective abortions were also frequently addressed, but many midwives involved had learned to cope with them.
Discussion: In the light of the ethical issues and factors contributing to phenomena of moral distress, an empirically grounded profile of moral competences is drafted. Curricular implications in the light of possible adaptations within undergraduate midwifery education are critically discussed.