Morphine : misconception and moral distress for nurses providing care to the dying.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Master of Medical Humanities


The physiological process of active dying may produce variable symptoms of anxiety, restlessness, difficulty breathing, fear, and pain which most would term suffering. For some, these symptoms are blessedly mild or brief, for others more severe and prolonged. Since the inception of hospice care in the United States in the mid 1970s, standards of care have advanced so that pain and suffering may be diminished during the dying process. A major component of that care is the use of morphine to relieve pain and ease respiratory distress. This thesis examines what is understood about the physiology of the dying process; the appropriate and effective use of morphine to ease suffering of the dying; the misconceptions regarding morphine and hastened death; the ethics supporting nurses' actions in administering morphine to dying patients; and how to diminish moral distress to enable nurses' to provide adequate symptom relief in the final days of a patient's life.