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Perspectives on Care at the Close of Life
Clinician's Corner
May 11, 2005

Palliative Care in the Final Days of Life“They Were Expecting It at Any Time”

Author Affiliations

Perspectives on Care at the Close of Life Section Editor: Margaret A. Winker, MD, Deputy Editor, JAMA.


Author Affiliation: Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, Calif.

JAMA. 2005;293(18):2265-2271. doi:10.1001/jama.293.18.2265

Providing care to actively dying patients presents unique challenges for the clinician. Patients in their final days require careful symptom management. Families need support and coaching as death approaches. Care does not end with the death of the patient but continues through death pronouncement, family notification of the death, discussion of autopsy, and immediate bereavement support. Skills in these and related areas are discussed in the context of one man’s death, as illuminated by comments made after death by his daughter and his physician. This case also highlights the often differing perspectives of families and clinicians as they work to deal with a patient’s death. A goal of mastering the palliative skills necessary to competently care for an actively dying patient is to enable a patient to die peacefully and relatively free of discomfort. Achieving such competency should also help to relieve clinician stress attendant to caring for dying patients.