Guilt without fault: A qualitative study into the ethics of forgiveness after traumatic childbirth

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When a life is lost or severely impaired during childbirth, the midwife and obstetrician involved may experience feelings of guilt in the aftermath. Through three empirical cases, the paper examines the sense of guilt in the context of the current patient safety culture in healthcare where a blame-free approach is promoted in the aftermath of adverse events. The purpose is to illustrate how healthcare professionals may experience guilt without being at fault after adverse events, and Gamlund's theory on forgiveness without blame is used as the theoretical framework for this analysis. Philosophical insight has proven to be a useful resource in dealing with psychological issues of guilt and Gamlund's view on error and forgiveness elucidates an interesting dilemma in the field of traumatic events and medical harm in healthcare, where healthcare professionals experience that well-intended actions may cause injury, harm or even death to their patients. Failing to recognise and acknowledge guilt or guilty feelings may preclude self-forgiveness, which could have a negative impact on the recovery of midwives and obstetricians after adverse events. Developing and improving support systems for healthcare professionals is a multi-factorial task, and the authors suggest that the narrow focus on medico-legal and patient safety perspectives is complemented with moral philosophical perspectives to promote non-judgemental recognition and acknowledgement of guilt and of the fallible nature of medicine.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Pages (from-to)14-20
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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