Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Marilyn Evans

2nd Supervisor

Dr. Yolanda Babenko-Mould



Nursing is an ethical profession in which nurses are called to act ethically, be moral agents and function with moral integrity. Contemporary nursing practice is morally pluralistic and at times, nurses may be faced with a conflict of conscience that motivates them to voice their ethical concerns about patient care provision that they perceive to be unethical. This concern can result in the format of a conscientious objection. Conscientious objection involves an individual objecting to doing something they deem unethical and to refrain from participating in that unethical action.

The aim of the question guiding this research study was to gain an in-depth understanding of what it means to be a nurse voicing a conscientious objection in workplace settings. An interpretive phenomenological approach was used to gain a deeper awareness of nurses’ ethical experiences through one-on-one, semi-structured interviews with registered nurses practicing across health care settings in Ontario. Data analysis was conducted consistent with thematic analysis of the participant’s narratives. Themes that arose around nurses’ meaningful experiences with voicing a conscientious objection include: encountering the problem, knowing oneself, taking a stand, alone and uncertainty, caring for others and perceptions of support.

The findings inform health professionals of the intricacies of making a conscientious objection for nurses. It is anticipated that such insight will generate further support for nurses addressing ethical dilemmas in professional practice. Implications and recommendations for nursing practice, policy, nursing education and further research are discussed.