Is it morally permissible for hospital nurses to access prisoner-patients’ criminal histories? [2017]

In the United States, information about a person’s criminal history is accessible with a name and date of birth. Ruth Crampton has studied nurses’ care for prisoner-patients in hospital settings and found care to be perfunctory and reactive. This article examines whether it is morally permissible for nurses in hospital settings to access information about prisoner-patients’ criminal histories. Nurses may argue for a right to such information based on the right to personal safety at work or the obligation to provide prisoner-patients with the care that they deserve. These two arguments are considered and rejected. It is further argued that accessing information about a prisoner-patient’s criminal history violates nurses’ duty to care. Care, understood through Sarah Ruddick’s account as work and relationship, requires nurses to be open and unbiased in order to do their part in forming a caring relationship with patients. Knowledge of a prisoner-patient’s criminal history inhibits the formation of this relationship and thus violates nurses’ duty to care.

Paul Neiman
Nursing Ethics, Vol 26, Issue 1, 2019