To explore convergence and divergence in ethical stances of public health and of members of the population regarding acceptability of harm reduction interventions, in particular needle exchange programs.
Forty-nine semi-structured interviews were conducted with French-speaking residents of Quebec City. Content analysis was done to explore the views of the respondents with regard to injection drug users (IDUs) and interventions addressed to them, as well as Quebec policies on harm reduction.
Four main categories of social representations about IDUs have emerged from the discourses of the respondents. IDU were represented as: suffering from a disease (n = 17); victim of a situation that they could not control (n = 14); having chosen to use drugs (n = 12); or delinquent people (n = 6). Those social representations were associated with different ethical stances regarding acceptability of harm reduction interventions. Main divergences between respondents' ethical positions on harm reduction and public health discourses were related to the value of tolerance and its limits.
The Quebec City population interviewed in this study had a high level of tolerance regarding needle distribution to drug addicts. Applied ethics could be a useful way to understand citizens' interpretation of public health interventions.
People who are street involved such as those experiencing homelessness and drug use face multiple inequities in health and access to health care. Morbidity and mortality are significantly increased among those who are street involved. Incorporation of a harm reduction philosophy in health care has the potential to shift the moral context of health care delivery and enhance access to health care services. However, harm reduction with a primary focus on reducing the harms of drug use fails focus on the harms associated with the context of drug use such as homelessness, violence and poverty.
Ethical analysis of the underlying values of harm reduction and examination of different conceptions of justice are discussed as a basis for action that addresses a broad range of harms associated with drug use.
Theories of distributive justice that focus primarily on the distribution of material goods are limited as theoretical frameworks for addressing the root causes of harm associated with drug use. Social justice, reconceptualised and interpreted through a critical lens as described by Iris Marion Young, is presented as a promising alternative ethical framework.
A critical reinterpretation of social justice leads to insights that can illuminate structural inequities that contribute to the harms associated with the context of drug use. Such an approach provides promise as means of informing policy that aims to reduce a broad range of harms associated with drug use such as homelessness and poverty.
People who are street involved including those experiencing homelessness and substance use are at increased risk of morbidity and mortality. Such inequities are exacerbated when those facing the greatest inequities in health have the least access to health care. These concerns have rarely been addressed in bioethics and there has been a lack of explicit attention to the dominant societal and organizational values that structure such injustices. The purpose of this paper is to describe the underlying value tensions that impact ethical nursing practice and affect equity in access to health care for those who are street involved.
In this paper, findings from a larger qualitative ethnographic study of ethical practice in nursing in the context of homelessness and substance use are reported. The original research was undertaken in two 'inner city' health care centres and one emergency department (ED) to gain a better understanding of ethical nursing practice within health care interactions. Data were collected over a period of 10 months through face-to-face interviews and participant observation.
In order to facilitate access to health care for those who are street-involved nurses had to navigate a series of value tensions. These value tensions included shifting from an ideology of fixing to reducing harm; stigma to moral worth; and personal responsibility to enhancing decision-making capacity. A context of harm reduction provided a basis for the development of relationships and shifted the moral orientation to reducing harm as a primary moral principle in which the worth of individuals and the development of their capacity for decision-making was fostered.
Implementation of a harm reduction philosophy in acute care settings has the potential to enhance access to health care for people who are street involved. However, explicit attention to defining the harms and values associated with harm reduction is needed. While nurses adopted values consistent with harm reduction and recognized constraints on personal responsibility, there was little attention to action on the social determinants of health such as housing. The individual and collective role of professional nurses in addressing the harms associated with drug use and homelessness requires additional examination.