The Right to Touch and Be Touched

Nursing Ethics 3 (2):165-176 (1996)

Abstract
Touching is an integral part of human behaviour; from the moment of birth until they die, people need to be touched and to touch others. Touching is an intimate action that implies an invasion of the individual's personal, private space. In ethical terms, the ques tion of touching is closely related to the patient's right to integrity and inviolability. The purpose of this study was to describe touching as it is experienced by elderly patients and nurses in long-term care. Touching was approached as a form of commu nication and as an important part of nursing practice. The participants, 25 patients and 30 nurses, were interviewed using a semistructured schedule. The data were analysed using the method of content analysis. The patients experienced touching by nurses as gentle, comforting and important. The nurses, for their part, experienced touching by patients as easy and natural. The patients rarely touched nurses more than was neces sary. In some cases, nurses had to cope with violent touching by patients. Some women nurses interpreted touches by male patients as having a sexual nature and as annoying. This had taught male patients to avoid touching nurses. On the other hand, friendly and grateful touches by patients were very important to nurses. When used for emotional purposes only, touching presupposed a good relationship between nurses and their patients. Although touching is extremely common in nursing practice, there has been very little research into its meaning. More work is therefore needed to explore the role and meaning of touching in nursing
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DOI 10.1177/096973309600300209
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