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Published: 13 January 2016

ICE Observatory Nursing Ethics Heritage Launch: An inspirational encounter

The International Care Ethics (ICE) Observatory team and Advisory Board members were thrilled to welcome Professor Marsha Fowler to the University of Surrey on the 25th and 26th January 2016. Professor Fowler is a scholar and nurse ethicist and has donated to the Observatory a substantial collection of nursing ethics literature ranging from 1889 to the present day.

The nursing ethics heritage collection consists of nursing ethics books, codes of ethics, biographies, autobiographies and oral histories from around the globe. The collection will be held in the University of Surrey library. She gave two very engaging and informative lectures. In her first lecture, ‘The Research Potential of the ICE Observatory Nursing Ethics Heritage Archive introduced by Mr David Perry, Chair of the ICE Observatory Advisory Group, Professor Fowler highlighted the importance of the archive:

It will contain every book on nursing ethics published from the 1880s.

It will draw together a group of researchers from different disciplines and professions interested in nursing ethics and foster international cooperation.

It will provide a compendium of resources for the understanding of the nature of nursing ethics and the issues surrounding it.

This will be original source material in nursing ethics that was lost in the post computer era.

This is a comprehensive global collection of nursing ethics books, papers, journals, letters, reports, codes and more.

Amongst other very thought-provoking invocations, Professor Fowler said that the future of nursing ethics should look to the past to find its future. She also encouraged students to build their PhD studies around the collection.

Professor Fowler’s second lecture: “Why the History of Nursing Ethics Matters” was introduced by Professor Nora Kearney, Head of School of Health Sciences. Professor Fowler drew from the analogy of tradition to say that tradition identifies a community, while every community requires a narrative.Hence whatever is in nursing can be discerned from its history. The history of nursing ethics will help to discern the type of nursing today and define its context for tomorrow. Nursing tradition is a vehicle through which the values of nursing are transmitted.

She highlighted the challenging relationship between nursing ethics and bioethics. She suggested that for some bioethicists, nursing ethics was a secondary consideration after every other subject. She also lamented that until the end of the 1800s, nursing was still taught by non-nurses. Professor Fowler’s conclusion was that ‘nursing Ethics is a social ethics, that’s why it matters’. She provided many examples from the heritage literature regarding nurses’ engagement with issues of social importance like: inequality, suffrage and slavery in public health. It was moving and very inspirational to see so many academics gathered around the table of nursing ethics; celebrating human generosity to others; and the handing over of knowledge that bears historical narratives that will shape the future of nursing ethics. The collegiality and multidisciplinary interaction was humbling.

Watch out for an article by Professor Fowler relating to this heritage collection in the international journal Nursing Ethics. 

Review by:

Louistas Nyuyse
(2nd Yr. BSc in Adult Nursing)

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