Acceptance of dying: a discourse analysis of palliative care literature

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Jul;75(1):217-24. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.02.047. Epub 2012 Mar 29.


The subject of death denial in the West has been examined extensively in the sociological literature. However, there has not been a similar examination of its "opposite", the acceptance of death. In this study, I use the qualitative method of discourse analysis to examine the use of the term "acceptance" of dying in the palliative care literature from 1970 to 2001. A Medline search was performed by combining the text words "accept or acceptance" with the subject headings "terminal care or palliative care or hospice care", and restricting the search to English language articles in clinical journals discussing acceptance of death in adults. The 40 articles were coded and analysed using a critical discourse analysis method. This paper focuses on the theme of acceptance as integral to palliative care, which had subthemes of acceptance as a goal of care, personal acceptance of healthcare workers, and acceptance as a facilitator of care. For patients and families, death acceptance is a goal that they can be helped to attain; for palliative care staff, acceptance of dying is a personal quality that is a precondition for effective practice. Acceptance not only facilitates the dying process for the patient and family, but also renders care easier. The analysis investigates the intertextuality of these themes with each other and with previous texts. From a Foucauldian perspective, I suggest that the discourse on acceptance of dying represents a productive power, which disciplines patients through apparent psychological and spiritual gratification, and encourages participation in a certain way to die.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / ethics*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Hospice Care / ethics
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care / ethics
  • Palliative Care / methods
  • Palliative Care / psychology*
  • Philosophy, Medical
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Terminal Care / psychology
  • Truth Disclosure / ethics*