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Soc Sci Med. 1996 Aug;43(3):409-19.

The spiritual dimension of hospice: the secularization of an ideal.

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  • 1National Institute for Nursing, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, England.


There is increasing concern that the original hospice ethos is becoming subject to routinization and bureaucratization. Authors, drawing on Weber's concept of rationalization, have suggested that this has resulted from the loss of the original charismatic impetus and the commitment to care for the terminally ill and dying as inspired by the spiritual 'calling'. This paper argues that this original ethical ideal has been fundamental to the humane care of the dying and terminally ill. Using Alasdair MacIntyre's analysis it is suggested that as the ideal attenuates there are inevitable shifts in the ethos and culture of care. An emotivist culture in which the aesthete, the therapist and the manager are dominant characters, may seem to be occurring in palliative care. The focus on management skills and the values of efficiency and effectiveness influence attitudes to death. This brings increased medicalization, a reliance on psychosocial techniques, a predominant focus on education, research and audit and most particularly redefined attitudes to the spiritual component of care. The paper asks the question whether the original ethic has a place in preventing palliative care becoming merely a technique for professional empowerment.

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