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The Work of Nurses as Activists


Throughout history, many nurses had to become activists to either advance the field of nursing and care or solve complex situations that require a very careful approach. This paper will provide my thoughts on this, and it will put me in the shoes of a nurse activist to provide a response to two real life cases.

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Nurses as Activists

Change is often frightening to people, especially when it contradicts their prior beliefs. Perhaps this is the reason why activists are often persecuted until they either give up or their demands are met. I have tremendous respect for people who fight for their rights despite social and political opposition. One of such people was Margaret Sanger. Her work as a birth control activist was instrumental in legalizing abortion and birth control in the United States.

She chose this path after seeing her mother suffer after 18 pregnancies. She promoted sex education and birth control in an era of highly religiously influenced government and repression of women. For her actions, she was prosecuted in 1914 and had to flee the country until it was safe to return. Subsequently, she opened the first birth control clinic in the United States which led to her arrest in 1916. However, she was later freed and continued to promote birth control until her death in 1966. She was a controversial figure in some respects, but I see her as an example of the unwavering will to help people which I see as one of the main components of nursing (Reed, 2014).

Two Cases

The cases of Barbara Howe and the case of Terry Schiavo present one of the hardest conundrums in nursing and medicine in general. When does medical care hurt the patient more than help them? When is medical care futile? Is a person not entitled to have his body kept alive until natural death? These questions have been debated over and over again since the invention of life support technologies, and I do not know if there is a possible answer to these issues. However, for the purposes of this assignment, I will have to take a firm stand on the issue.

I am a dedicated proponent of people having agency in all decisions that concern their life. As a nurse activist, I would have to support the will of the patients who do not want to die despite their condition. I have an inherent problem with the idea that a third party can disconnect a person from life support without the consent of the person. There are obvious pitfalls that come with this belief, however. I do not think the illegal action of Dr. Jack Kevorkian were just, as the issue requires much more ethical and philosophical examination (DeCesare, 2015). Although I am not sure about the right to die, I am sure about the right to live. Even if the living itself is obstructed through illness; the will of the person to keep living should be a priority for the medical professionals.


The work of nurses as activists has inspired many changes in the medical field. Their beliefs were almost always controversial at the time, but the history has shown that their actions led to a better form of care. Not all of the problems have been addressed, however, especially when it comes to such delicate issues as the cases when the patient might lose their life support through a court decision. Unfortunately, these questions might never receive a satisfying answer.


DeCesare, M. (2015). Death on demand: Jack Kevorkian and the right-to-die movement. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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Reed, J. (2014). The birth control movement and American society: From private vice to public virtue. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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