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Palliative care

Natashe Lemos Dekker published the article 'Palliative care' in The Open Encyclopedia of Anthropology in 2023.

Natashe Lemos Dekker
16 October 2023
Article in The Open Encyclopedia of Anthropology


Palliative care has been developing since the 1960s as a form of caregiving that focuses on the relief of suffering when there is no prospect of a cure or when a patient is at the end of life. Originating in the UK and US, palliative care has been taken up by global institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO), and implemented in various cultural and socioeconomic settings. Anthropological studies have long been highlighting the wide variety of experiences and needs in illness and dying and have problematised the supposedly universal ideas behind palliative care. After a brief discussion of the historical and institutional development of palliative care, this entry highlights the links between palliative care principles and notions of a good death. It then turns to the medicalisation of death and the primacy of choice in palliative care discourses. It elaborates on anthropological studies that have observed how palliative care comes to relate to existing end-of-life care practices and the diversity with which local practitioners and care recipients give shape to this new care paradigm. Finally, it discusses various cultural and moral attitudes towards disclosure and concealment of dying as a site of friction in palliative care. 

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