Good enough death: autonomy and choice in Australian palliative care

Beverley Mcnamara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Citations (Scopus)


This paper draws upon Australian fieldwork to trace the changing notions of a good death held by hospice and palliative care practitioners. Palliative care practitioners search for an ideology to inform their practice within the context of a complex society for which there is no one good death. Social demographics, the multicultural nature of society and institutional constraints frame the experience of dying in complex ways, while contemporary social responses to dying reflect the uncertainties held by many Australians. Despite the fragmentation evident within contemporary Australian society, the hospice movement in Australia and in other Western contexts has sought to reintroduce a ritual for dying. The good death ideology of the original hospice movement proposed a manner of dying in which open communication and acceptance of death were actively encouraged. The hospice model of a good death, however, has become increasingly inappropriate in the current climate of patient autonomy and consumer choice. The practice of palliative care, a holistic form of care for dying people, which follows the individualistic ethic of choice, has emerged from and replaced the original hospice movement. Consequently, the good death of the original hospice movement has been abandoned in favour of a philosophy of a ‘good enough’ death. However, what may appear a compromise informed by ethical practice masks a return to routine medical practices and a hierarchy of care which prioritises the physical management of symptoms. It appears that while palliative care practitioners may often fail in their facilitation of a good death for their patients, they can be proactive in alleviating their patients’ pain and physical discomfort.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)929-938
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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