A matter of definition - key elements identified in a discourse analysis of definitions of palliative care

Pastrana, T.; Jünger, S.; Ostgathe, C.; Elsner, F.; Radbruch, L.
April 2008
Palliative Medicine;Apr2008, Vol. 22 Issue 3, p222
Academic Journal
For more than 30 years, the term "palliative care" has been used. From the outset, the term has undergone a series of transformations in its definitions and consequently in its tasks and goals. There remains a lack of consensus on a definition. The aim of this article is to analyse the definitions of palliative care in the specialist literature and to identify the key elements of palliative care using discourse analysis: a qualitative methodology. The literature search focused on definitions of the term 'palliative medicine' and 'palliative care' in the World Wide Web and medical reference books in English and German. A total of 37 English and 26 German definitions were identified and analysed. Our study confirmed the lack of a consistent meaning concerning the investigated terms, reflecting on-going discussion about the nature of the field among palliative care practitioners. Several common key elements were identified. Four main categories emerged from the discourse analysis of the definition of palliative care: target groups, structure, tasks and expertise. In addition, the theoretical principles and goals of palliative care were discussed and found to be key elements, with relief and prevention of suffering and improvement of quality of life as main goals. The identified key elements can contribute to the definition of the concept 'palliative care'. Our study confirms the importance of semantic and ethical influences on palliative care that should be considered in future research on semantics in different languages.


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