Nursing care of dead bodies: a discursive analysis of last offices

J Adv Nurs. 2003 Mar;41(6):553-60. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.2003.02567.x.


Background: Nurses care for patients before they are born, after they have died and during the lifetime in between. This paper explores nursing care of the patient after they have died including the actions by nurses in preparation of the body, the covering with a shroud, and the transfer to the mortuary.

Aims: The analysis of a procedure manual excerpt Last Offices, which directs care of the dead patient aims to explore nursing care practices in regard to dead patients, as well as the impact of the health care institution and society at large on these care practices.

Method: An acute care teaching hospital located in a major Australian city was approached and permission was granted to access their procedure and policy manuals. The Last Offices excerpt of the procedure manual was discursively analysed.

Findings: It is the contention of this paper that, through their care, nurses enact the transition between life and death, and from person to corpse. Furthermore, nurses mediate the move from embodied person to becoming dead, and in so doing traverse the cultural, ontological and epistemological breaks that death entails.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Death
  • Cadaver*
  • Human Body
  • Humans
  • Manuals as Topic*
  • Nurse's Role
  • Nursing Care / methods*
  • Terminology as Topic