Moral failure, moral prudence, and character challenges in residential care during the Covid-19 pandemic

Monteverde, Settimio (2023). Moral failure, moral prudence, and character challenges in residential care during the Covid-19 pandemic Nursing ethics, 31(1), pp. 17-27. Sage Publications 10.1177/09697330231174532

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In many high-income countries, an initial response to the severe impact of Covid-19 on residential care was to shield residents from outside contacts. As the pandemic progressed, these measures have been increasingly questioned, given their detrimental impact on residents’ health and well-being and their dubious effectiveness. Many authorities have been hesitant in adapting visiting policies, often leaving nursing homes to act on their own safety and liability considerations. Against this backdrop, this article discusses the appropriateness of viewing the continuation of the practice of shielding as a moral failure. This is affirmed and specified in four dimensions: preventability of foreseeable harm, moral agency, moral character, and moral practice (in MacIntyre’s sense). Moral character is discussed in the context of prudent versus proportionate choices. As to moral practice, it will be shown that the continued practice of shielding no longer met the requirements of an (inherently moral) practice, as external goods such as security thinking and structural deficiencies prevented the pursuit of internal goods focusing on residents’ interests and welfare, which in many places has led to a loss of trust in these facilities. This specification of moral failure also allows a novel perspective on moral distress, which can be understood as the expression of the psychological impact of moral failure on moral agents. Conclusions are formulated about how pandemic events can be understood as character challenges for healthcare professionals within residential care, aimed at preserving the internal goods of residential care even under difficult circumstances, which is understood as a manifestation of moral resilience. Finally, the importance of moral and civic education of healthcare students is emphasized to facilitate students’ early identification as trusted members of a profession and a caring society, in order to reduce experiences of moral failure or improve the way to deal with it effectively.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


School of Health Professions
School of Health Professions > Nursing
School of Health Professions > G Teaching


Monteverde, Settimio0000-0002-7041-2663


B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
R Medicine > RT Nursing




Sage Publications




Settimio Monteverde

Date Deposited:

12 Jun 2023 14:40

Last Modified:

03 Mar 2024 01:37

Publisher DOI:


Related URLs:

Uncontrolled Keywords:

COVID-19 Residential care Nursing homes Moral character Virtue ethics Moral distress




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