Preparing End-of-Life Talks in Palliative Care: Exploratory Remarks on a Social Process

Alexandre Cotovio Martins, Michel Binet, David Monteiro, Oriana Brás

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, we develop an exploratory analysis of some of the interactional strategies developed by palliative care (PC) professionals in order to prepare end-of-life (EoL) talks with patients and their families, namely in the frame of specifically social problem-solving work which they develop on a daily basis. In this sense, our object of analysis is not EoL talks in themselves, but the broader social processes that tend to precede them in PC, that is, all the work both of approaching the patient and his or her family and of coordination within the teams that PC professionals routinely do in order to propitiate EoL talk. In this way, we don’t envisage EoL talks as a conversation between two parties, with a patient on one side and a doctor on the other side, but as a wider social process which relies upon strong and previous professional engagement. The analysis conducted herein was carried out on data collected under the projects ETIC – Managing EoL trajectories in palliative care: a study on the work of healthcare professionals (Ref. PTDC/SOC-SOC/30092/2017) and Building paths towards death: an analysis of everyday work in palliative care (Ref. PTDC/CS-SOC/119621/2010), both financed by the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation (FCT); in particular the data obtained through 17 months (12 in the first project and 5 in the second one, still in progress) of ethnographic observation carried out at two hospital internment units providing PC in Mainland Portugal and 42 (37 in the first project and 5 in the second one, still in progress) in-depth interviews to professionals in PC – physicians, nurses, and social workers. As main results, we present several theoretical and empirical elements relevant to the analysis of the field of EoL communication in the context of interactions between healthcare professionals, patients and their families. Following earlier studies on the same theme, we show how the work of preparing EoL conversations refers to a broader social process preceding those conversations. We believe that our findings may contribute to elucidating this dimension of the intervention of PC professionals, thus being instrumental for the future definition of systematised guidelines and recommendations in the framework of PC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-250
Number of pages15
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number2
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • critical moments
  • end-of-life talks
  • end-of-life trajectories
  • palliative care


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