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J Med Ethics. 2002 Dec; 28(6): 342–346.
PMCID: PMC1757101

Palliative care research: trading ethics for an evidence base


Good medical practice requires evidence of effectiveness to address deficits in care, strive for further improvements, and justly apportion finite resources. Nevertheless, the potential of palliative care is still held back by a paucity of good evidence. These circumstances are largely attributable to perceived ethical challenges that allegedly distinguish dying patients as a special client class. In addition, practical limitations compromise the quality of evidence that can be obtained from empirical research on terminally ill subjects.

This critique aims to appraise the need for focused research, in order to develop clinical and policy decisions that will guide health care professionals in their care of dying patients. Weighted against this need are tenets that value the practical and ethical challenges of palliative care research as unique and insurmountable. The review concludes that, provided investigators compassionately apply ethical principles to their work, there is no justification for not endeavouring to improve the quality of palliative care through research.

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Selected References

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