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In the March 2009 Ohio Nurse, Pamela Dickerson asks: "What happens when two people, or two groups of people, have differing perspectives about what is 'right?'" Dickerson says in most cases "there is no 'right' answer." "In fact, in the truest sense of the word," she writes, "ethical dilemmas involve situations where there are two or more perspectives, any of which is 'right' from the point of view of the person holding that perspective. The role of the nurse is to facilitate create dialogue to be sure each party has a voice" (Dickerson, 2009, p. 1).


When I read "there is no 'right' answer," I had to stop and think. Yes, ethical dilemmas do involve conflicts of perspectives and nurses are often called to be facilitators in the decision process. This understanding of ethics-that "right" is a matter of individual opinion-is a popular view. But does this mean that there are actually no right answers to ethical dilemmas in nursing?


Beliefs about what is right or wrong certainly reflect personal opinion. But does personal opinion determine right? If something is right just because someone thinks it is, then how could anyone ever make wrong choices? How could ethical disagreements ever be resolved except, perhaps, by the strength of personal opinion-"might makes right?" How could people improve morally if "right" is entirely a matter of individual perspective?


This view of ethics is relativism. According to ethicist Steve Wilkens, relativism is attractive because of an increased awareness of cultural diversity. Wilkens points out, "the existence of an absolute ethical measure is denied by relativism" (1995, p. 30) and asks, how do we know one way is any better than another if there is no possibility of an unbiased point of view?


Considering ethical dilemmas, the Apostle Paul wrote, "I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it," (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). Are we, as Christian nurses, okay with the prevailing view that there are no "right" answers to ethical dilemmas except whatever personal perspectives might prevail? Is milk enough?


Christian author John MacArthur notes, "This is the postmodern world... as hostile as modernism to the truth of Christianity-perhaps even more so" (MacArthur, 2002, p. ix). Modernism is the view that placed absolute faith in science as the source of truth. Scripture was out; science held the answers to life's great questions. Today's postmodernism goes further. "Postmodernism has completely lost interest in 'the truth,' insisting that there is no such thing as absolute, objective, or universal truth" (MacArthur, 2002, p. 7). Instead, there is "veneration of tolerance" (p. 13).


Truth-ethical, as well as theological -can be a murky issue. As recently as 50 years ago evangelicals agreed the Bible clearly teaches Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. Today, "Some who call themselves evangelicals are openly insisting that faith alone in Jesus is not the only way to heaven. They imagine it would be a tremendous cultural faux pas to declare that Christianity is the truth and all other faiths are wrong" (MacArthur, 2002, p. ix).


The charge of intolerance stings!! It's an accusation frequently leveled at Christians. Sometimes Christians buy into the gospel of postmodern relativism, taking it for granted that there isn't any moral or spiritual authority except individual opinion, personal perspective. If we accept the postmodern view without question and see ethical dilemmas only as a battle of wills among opposing personal perspectives, we've got milk, but we've missed the solid food, the feast of God's truth.


Christian ethics is not about dueling personal perspectives but about seeking God's will, trusting he is the source of all good and has promised to make the right path known to those who seek him first and are willing to set aside their own personal opinions.


Dickerson, P. S. (2009). The ethics of your nursing practice. Ohio Nurse, 2, 2. [Context Link]


MacArthur, J. (2002). Why one way? Nashville: W Publishing Group. [Context Link]


Wilkens, S. (1995). Beyond bumper sticker ethics. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books. [Context Link]