Diversity in defining end of life care: an obstacle or the way forward?

M. Gysels, N. Evans, A. Meñaca, I.J. Higginson, R Harding, R. Pool

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Aim: The terms used to describe care at the end of life (EoL), and its definitions, have evolved over time and reflect the changes in meaning the concept has undergone as the field develops. We explore the remit of EoL care as defined by experts in EoL care, from across Europe and beyond, to understand its current usage and meanings.
Method: A qualitative survey attached to a call for expertise on cultural issues in EoL care was sent to experts in the field identified through the literature, European EoL care associations, and conferences targeted at EoL care professionals. Respondents were asked to identify further contacts for snowball recruitment.The responses were analysed using content and discourse analysis.
Results: Responses were received from 167 individuals (33% response rate), mainly from academics (39%) and clinical practitioners working in an academic context (23%) from 19 countries in Europe and beyond. 29% of respondents said explicitly that there was no agreed definition of EoL care in practice and only 14% offered a standard definition (WHO, or local institution). 2% said that the concept of EoL care was not used in their country, and 5% said that there was opposition to the concept for religious or cultural reasons. Two approaches were identified to arrive at an understanding of EoL care: exclusively by drawing boundaries through setting time frames, and inclusively by approaching its scope in an integrative way. This led to reflections about terminology and whether defining EoL care is desirable.
Conclusion: The global expansion of EoL care contributes to the variety of interpretations of what it means. This complicates the endeavour of defining the field. However, when diversity is taken seriously it can open up new perspectives to underpin the ethical framework of EoL care.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere68002
Number of pages7
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Cite this