Contextualising professional ethics: the impact of the prison context on the practices and norms of health care practitioners

Karolyn L. A. White, Christopher F. C. Jordens, Ian Kerridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Health care is provided in many contexts - not just hospitals, clinics, and community health settings. Different institutional settings may significantly influence the design and delivery of health care and the ethical obligations and practices of health care practitioners working within them. This is particularly true in institutions that are established to constrain freedom, ensure security and authority, and restrict movement and choice. We describe the results of a qualitative study of the experiences of doctors and nurses working within two women's prisons in the state of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Their accounts make clear how the provision and ethics of health care may be compromised by the physical design of the prison, the institutional policies and practices restricting movement of prisoners and practitioners, the focus on maintaining control and security, and the very purpose of the prison and prison system itself. The results of this study make clear the impact that context has on professional practice and illustrate the importance of sociology and anthropology to bioethics and to the development of a more nuanced account of professional ethics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-345
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Bioethical Inquiry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014


  • prisoners
  • health care
  • human rights
  • professional practice
  • professional ethics
  • nursing ethics


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