Ethical challenges experienced by prehospital emergency personnel: a practice-based model of analysis

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BACKGROUND: Ethical challenges constitute an inseparable part of daily decision-making processes in all areas of healthcare. In prehospital emergency medicine, decision-making commonly takes place in everyday life, under time pressure, with limited information about a patient and with few possibilities of consultation with colleagues. This paper explores the ethical challenges experienced by prehospital emergency personnel.

METHODS: The study was grounded in the tradition of action research related to interventions in health care. Ethical challenges were explored in three focus groups, each attended by emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and prehospital anaesthesiologists. The participants, 15 in total, were recruited through an internal information network of the emergency services. Focus groups were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim.

RESULTS: The participants described ethical challenges arising when clinical guidelines, legal requirements, and clinicians' professional and personal value systems conflicted and complicated decision-making processes. The challenges centred around treatment at the end of life, intoxicated and non-compliant patients, children as patients-and their guardians, and the collaboration with relatives in various capacities. Other challenges concerned guarding the safety of oneself, colleagues and bystanders, prioritising scarce resources, and staying loyal to colleagues with different value systems. Finally, challenges arose when summoned to situations where other professionals had failed to make a decision or take action when attending to patients whose legitimate needs were not met by the appropriate medical or social services, and when working alongside representatives of authorities with different roles, responsibilities and tasks.

CONCLUSION: From the perspective of the prehospital emergency personnel, ethical challenges arise in three interrelated contexts: when caring for patients, in the prehospital emergency unit, and during external collaboration. Value conflicts may be identified within these contexts as well as across them. A proposed model of analysis integrating the above contexts can assist in shedding light on ethical challenges and value conflicts in other health care settings. The model emphasises that ethical challenges are experienced from a particular professional perspective, in the context of the task at hand, and in a particular, the organisational setting that includes work schedules, medical guidelines, legal requirements, as well as professional and personal value systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number80
JournalB M C Medical Ethics
Issue number1
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 12. Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Allied Health Personnel
  • Child
  • Death
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Morals


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