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Truth-telling, honesty and compassion: A virtue-based exploration of a dilemma in practice


Ann M. Begley, The School of Nursing and Midwifery, The Queen's University of Belfast, 50 Elmwood Avenue, Belfast BT96AZ, UK. Email:


In this paper a discussion of the strengths of a virtue-based approach to ethics in nursing is discussed. Virtue ethics is often depicted as vague and lacking in any convincing application to the reality of practice. It is argued that exploring issues from a virtue perspective offers the possibility of a sensitive moral response which is grounded in the context of the client and his family. Far from being vague, virtue ethics offers guidance in practice, but this guidance acknowledges the complexity of individual lives as opposed to the impartiality and abstract nature of traditional moral theory, rules and principles. The vehicle for discussion is a case in practice. The position presented here is that in taking account of the salient features of each individual case, withholding the truth from adults with a life threatening illness can be justified for compassionate reasons.