A care ethics approach to a reduced ability to eat

Tessa Bergman, Nora Lize, Sandra Beijer, Natasja Raijmakers, Suzanne Metselaar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Patients with advanced cancer often experience a reduced ability to eat, which may result in tensions between patients and family members. Often with advanced cancer diagnoses, patients' appetites decline markedly, while family members focus on nutritional intake with the hope that this will postpone death. This hope might cause tensions between the patient and family; the family may expect healthcare professionals to encourage the patient to eat more, whereas the patient needs to be supported in their reduced ability to eat. When these tensions arise, healthcare professionals can experience challenges in providing good palliative care. To address these challenges in the provision of palliative care, healthcare professionals may adopt a care ethics approach. Similar to palliative care's focus on patient and family members' relationships, a care ethics approach emphasizes interdependency and social relationships. Using Joan Tronto's care ethics approach, we conducted a normative analysis of what caring for patients with reduced ability to eat and their family members should look like. Tronto's approach includes five phases of care: caring about, taking care of, care giving, care-receiving, and caring with. Based on our analysis and empirical studies on patients with advanced cancer and family members, concerns with their lack of appetite, we assert that healthcare professionals must be mindful of the potential of tensions related to appetite and be adept in dealing with these tensions. We urge that education is needed for healthcare professionals regarding the psychosocial impact of reduced ability to eat on both patients and family members and interprofessional collaboration is of the essence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9697330231197708
JournalNursing ethics
Early online date28 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2023


  • Community care
  • cancer
  • clinical ethics
  • eating
  • ethics of care/care ethics
  • home care
  • literature review
  • palliative care

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