Care Ethics and Nursing Practice

  • Ann GallagherEmail author


Care ethics, also known as ethics of care, is one lens with which to view ethics as applied to nursing and care more generally. The beginning of this particular approach to ethics as applied to care is attributed to the work of Carol Gilligan and Nel Noddings in the early 1980s. Care ethics has evolved primarily in North America and Europe with different strands and input from philosophers and social scientists. This chapter traces the development of care ethics, summarises key elements and focuses on the work of two theorists – Joan Tronto and Chris Gastmans – and the implications for nursing ethics. A short case study from an ethics education research project suggests the value of applying insights from care ethics to everyday practice situations. The strengths and limitations of care ethics are discussed and it will be concluded that, whilst care ethics makes a valuable contribution to ethics as applied to care, other perspectives enhance this approach.


Care ethics Relationality Vulnerability Dependency Dignity Responsibility 


  1. Austin W (2006) Engagement in contemporary practice: a relational ethics perspective. Testo Contexto Enferm Florianopolis 15(esp):135–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Banks S, Gallagher A (2009) Ethics in professional life: virtues for health and social care. Palgrave MacMillan, BasingstokeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnes B, Brannelly T, Ward L, Ward N (eds) (2015) Ethics of care: critical advances in international perspective. Policy Press, BristolGoogle Scholar
  4. Beauchamp TL, Childress JF (2013) Principles of biomedical ethics, 7th edn. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Bubb S (2014) Winterbourne view – time for change: transforming the commissioning of services for people with learning disabilities and/or autism. Accessed 1 Oct 2016
  6. Collins S (2015) The core of care ethics. Palgrave MacMillan, BasingstokeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fowler M (2016) Heritage ethics: towards a thicker account of nursing ethics. Nurs Ethics 23(1):4–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Francis R (2013) The mid-staffordshire NHS foundation trust public inquiry: final report. Accessed 1 Oct 2016
  9. Gallagher A (2014) Moral boundaries and nursing ethics. In: Olthuis G, Kohlen H, Heier J (eds) Moral boundaries redrawn: the significance of Joan Tronto’s argument for political theory, professional ethics, and care as practice. Peeters, Leuven, pp 133–152Google Scholar
  10. Gallagher A, Cox A (2015) The RIPE project protocol: researching interventions that promote ethics in social care working papers in the health sciences spring.
  11. Gallagher A, Peacock M, Zasada M, Coucke T, Cox A, Janssens N (2016 in press) Care-givers’ reflections on an ethics education immersive simulation care experience: a series of epiphanous events. Nursing Inquiry DOI: 10.1111/nin.12174 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gastmans C (1999) Care as a moral attitude in nursing. Nurs Ethics 6(3):214–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gastmans C (2013) Dignity-enhancing nursing care: a foundational ethical framework. Nurs Ethics 20(2):142–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gastmans C, Dierckx de Casterlé B, Schotsmans P (1998) Nursing considered as moral practice: a philosophical-ethical interpretation of nursing. Kennedy Inst Ethics J 8(1):42–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gilligan C (1982) In a different voice: psychological theory and women’s development. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
  16. Held V (1993) Feminist morality: transforming culture, society and politics. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  17. Held V (2006) The ethics of care: personal, political and global. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  18. Kittay EF (1999) Love’s labour: essays on women, equality and dependency. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  19. Kittay EF (2002) When caring is just and justice is caring: justice and mental retardation. In: Kittay EF, Feder EK (eds) The subject of care: feminist perspectives on dependency. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., Lanham, pp 257–276Google Scholar
  20. Mayeroff M (1971) On caring. Harper Perennial, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. Noddings N (1984) Caring: a feminine approach to ethics & moral education. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  22. Pollard CI (2015) What is the right thing to do: use of a relational ethic framework to guide clinical dcision-making. Int J Caring Sci 8(2):362–368 Google Scholar
  23. Ruddick S (1989) Maternal thinking: toward a politics of peace. Bellentine Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  24. Sander-Staudt M (n.d.) Care ethic Internet encyclopedia of philosophy.
  25. Slote M (2007) The ethics of care and empathy. Routledge, OxonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Tronto JC (1993) Moral boundaries: a political argument for an ethic of care. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  27. Tronto JC (2013) Caring democracy: markets, equality and justice. New York University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  28. Tronto JC, Fisher B (1991) Toward a feminist theory of care. In: Able E, Nelson M (eds) Circles of care: work and identity in women’s lives’. State University of New York Press, Albany, p 40Google Scholar
  29. Vanlaere L, Gastmans C (2011) To be is to care: a philosophical-ethical analysis of care with a view from nursing. In: Leget C, Gastmans C, Verkerk M (eds) Care, compassion and recognition: an ethical discussion. Peeters, Leuven, pp 15–31Google Scholar
  30. Ward N (2015) Care ethics, intersectionality and post structuralism. In: Barnes B, Brannelly T, Ward L, Ward N (eds) Ethics of care: critical advances in international perspective. Policy Press, Bristol, pp 57–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Care Ethics (ICE) Observatory, School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health and Medical SciencesUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK

Personalised recommendations