Language matters in end-of-life conversations

February 2, 2018, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing
Language matters in end-of-life conversations
Connie M. Ulrich, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Lillian S. Brunner Chair in Medical and Surgical Nursing and Professor of Nursing. Credit: Penn Nursing

In general, the term "medical futility" applies when, based on data and professional experience, no further treatments, procedures or tests will provide benefit and may, in fact, be more burdensome and create undue suffering for the patient and the patient's family.

As expected, discussing futility at end of life is complex and emotionally draining for patients, families, and clinicians. Because it is often used imprecisely, the term "futile"—and newer terms including "potentially inappropriate"—can cause confusion and result in disagreements about . A University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) perspective article cautions that care must be taken by clinicians to guard against the misuse of language when guiding patients and families on death and dying.

"The reconceptualization of futility language requires further clarification and analysis of how newer terms impact the and families who rely on their clinicians for expert care and compassion at end of life," wrote author Connie M. Ulrich, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Lillian S. Brunner Chair in Medical and Surgical Nursing and Professor of Nursing. The article, "End-of-Life Futility Conversations - When Language Matters" has been published in the journal Perspectives in Biology and Medicine.

"How use words to give meaning to the dying process for those who are seriously ill can be a salve that is long remembered amidst the initial disbelief and grief suffered by so many," wrote Ulrich.

Explore further: End-of-life care doctors consider patient and family needs when deciding to end treatment

More information: Connie M. Ulrich. End-of-Life Futility Conversations: When Language Matters, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (2018). DOI: 10.1353/pbm.2018.0020

Related Stories

End-of-life care doctors consider patient and family needs when deciding to end treatment

May 2, 2016
The first Australian study on how end-of-life care doctors use the term "futile treatment" to make decisions on whether further treatment should be given when a person has no hope of recovery and death is near, has been published ...

Nurses' experience of compassion impacts delivery of care

January 4, 2018
(HealthDay)—Critical care nurses' experiences of compassion satisfaction and compassion fatigue influence their ability to deliver patient-centered care, according to a study published online Dec. 21 in the Journal of Clinical ...

Clinicians should address needs of family caregivers of persons with dementia

December 5, 2016
More than 15 million family members and other unpaid caregivers provide care to persons living with dementia in the United States. Yet the current healthcare environment and reimbursement models emphasize obligations toward ...

More doctors are becoming 'nursing home specialists'

November 28, 2017
The number of doctors and advance practitioners in the United States who focus on nursing home care rose by more than a third between 2012 and 2015, according to a new study published today in JAMA from researchers at the ...

Nurses play vital role in care of terminally ill patients

November 10, 2014
A University of Queensland study has found nurses play a crucial role in decisions surrounding treatment of terminally ill patients.

Most nursing home residents eligible for palliative care but lack access

November 21, 2017
Nearly 70 percent of nursing home residents are eligible for palliative care, but do not receive any corresponding support to provide relief from their symptoms and improve their quality of life, according to a study by researchers ...

Recommended for you

1 in 9 U.S. adults over 45 reports memory problems

July 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—If you're middle-aged and you think you're losing your memory, you're not alone, a new U.S. government report shows.

Antioxidant benefits of sleep

July 12, 2018
Understanding sleep has become increasingly important in modern society, where chronic loss of sleep has become rampant and pervasive. As evidence mounts for a correlation between lack of sleep and negative health effects, ...

Footwear habits influence child and adolescent motor skill development

July 11, 2018
New research finds that children and adolescents who spend most of their time barefoot develop motor skills differently from those who habitually wear shoes. Published in Frontiers in Pediatrics, this is the first study to ...

How a Mediterranean diet could reduce osteoporosis

July 11, 2018
Eating a Mediterranean-type diet could reduce bone loss in people with osteoporosis—according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

Extreme heat and reduced cognitive performance in adults in non-air-conditioned buildings

July 10, 2018
Students who lived in dormitories without air conditioning (AC) during a heat wave performed worse on a series of cognitive tests compared with students who lived in air-conditioned dorms, according to new research led by ...

Suppressing negative emotions during health scare may whip up spiral of fear

July 10, 2018
Trying to suppress worries during a health scare, like the recent Zika outbreak, may lead to an ever-intensifying cycle of emotional suppression and fear, according to a team of researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.