Managing aggression in hospitals: A role for clinical ethicists

Clinical Ethics 16 (3):252-258 (2021)
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Abstract

Hospitals are places where patients are unwell, where patients and their families may be upset, confused, frustrated, in pain, and vulnerable. The likelihood of these experiences and emotions manifesting in anger and aggressive behaviour is high. In this paper, we describe the involvement of a clinical ethics service responding to a request to discuss family aggression within a rehabilitation department in a large paediatric hospital in Australia. We suggest two key advantages of involving a clinical ethics service in discussions about how to respond to family aggression. First, the process of ethics deliberation provides an opportunity for clinicians to be involved in the solution by articulating their perspectives, tolerance levels, and general concerns about the effects of family aggression towards staff. Second, supporting clinicians to articulate and identify the impact of parental aggression directly counters the disadvantages of the more blunt zero-tolerance policy response, which is necessarily imposed from the top down.

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