In the last days, the goals of the healthcare team are to ensure a peaceful death for the patient and to support the family during the dying process and throughout grief and mourning. The focus for the patient is management of symptoms and emotional and spiritual ease, and the focus for the family is education to prepare them for the dying process. This course will explore how care providers can best support the patient and family during and after death.

Education Category: Ethics - Human Rights
Release Date: 11/01/2021
Expiration Date: 10/31/2024

Table of Contents


This course is designed for members of the interprofessional team, including physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, marriage and family therapists, and other members seeking to enhance their knowledge of palliative care.

Accreditations & Approvals

In support of improving patient care, TRC Healthcare/NetCE is jointly accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), to provide continuing education for the healthcare team. NetCE has been approved by NBCC as an Approved Continuing Education Provider, ACEP No. 6361. Programs that do not qualify for NBCC credit are clearly identified. NetCE is solely responsible for all aspects of the programs. NetCE is approved to offer continuing education through the Florida Board of Nursing Home Administrators, Provider #50-2405. NetCE is approved by the California Nursing Home Administrator Program as a provider of continuing education. Provider number 1622. As a Jointly Accredited Organization, NetCE is approved to offer social work continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Approved Continuing Education (ACE) program. Organizations, not individual courses, are approved under this program. Regulatory boards are the final authority on courses accepted for continuing education credit. NetCE is accredited by the International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET). NetCE complies with the ANSI/IACET Standard, which is recognized internationally as a standard of excellence in instructional practices. As a result of this accreditation, NetCE is authorized to issue the IACET CEU. NetCE is recognized by the New York State Education Department's State Board for Social Work as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed social workers #SW-0033. This course is considered self-study, as defined by the New York State Board for Social Work. NetCE is recognized by the New York State Education Department's State Board for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed mental health counselors #MHC-0021. This course is considered self-study by the New York State Board of Mental Health Counseling. Materials that are included in this course may include interventions and modalities that are beyond the authorized practice of licensed master social work and licensed clinical social work in New York. As a licensed professional, you are responsible for reviewing the scope of practice, including activities that are defined in law as beyond the boundaries of practice for an LMSW and LCSW. A licensee who practices beyond the authorized scope of practice could be charged with unprofessional conduct under the Education Law and Regents Rules. NetCE is recognized by the New York State Education Department's State Board for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed marriage and family therapists. #MFT-0015.This course is considered self-study by the New York State Board of Marriage and Family Therapy.

Designations of Credit

This activity was planned by and for the healthcare team, and learners will receive 1 Interprofessional Continuing Education (IPCE) credit(s) for learning and change. NetCE designates this enduring material for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. NetCE designates this continuing education activity for 1 ANCC contact hour(s). NetCE designates this continuing education activity for 0.5 pharmacotherapeutic/pharmacology contact hour(s). NetCE designates this continuing education activity for 1.2 hours for Alabama nurses. NetCE designates this continuing education activity for 0.5 NBCC clock hour(s). Social workers participating in this intermediate to advanced course will receive 1 Clinical continuing education clock hours. Successful completion of this CME activity, which includes participation in the evaluation component, enables the participant to earn up to 1 MOC points in the American Board of Internal Medicine's (ABIM) Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program. Participants will earn MOC points equivalent to the amount of CME credits claimed for the activity. It is the CME activity provider's responsibility to submit participant completion information to ACCME for the purpose of granting ABIM MOC credit. Completion of this course constitutes permission to share the completion data with ACCME. Successful completion of this CME activity, which includes participation in the evaluation component, enables the learner to earn credit toward the CME and/or Self-Assessment requirements of the American Board of Surgery's Continuous Certification program. It is the CME activity provider's responsibility to submit learner completion information to ACCME for the purpose of granting ABS credit. This activity has been approved for the American Board of Anesthesiology’s® (ABA) requirements for Part II: Lifelong Learning and Self-Assessment of the American Board of Anesthesiology’s (ABA) redesigned Maintenance of Certification in Anesthesiology Program® (MOCA®), known as MOCA 2.0®. Please consult the ABA website, www.theABA.org, for a list of all MOCA 2.0 requirements. Maintenance of Certification in Anesthesiology Program® and MOCA® are registered certification marks of the American Board of Anesthesiology®. MOCA 2.0® is a trademark of the American Board of Anesthesiology®. Successful completion of this CME activity, which includes participation in the activity with individual assessments of the participant and feedback to the participant, enables the participant to earn 1 MOC points in the American Board of Pediatrics' (ABP) Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program. It is the CME activity provider's responsibility to submit participant completion information to ACCME for the purpose of granting ABP MOC credit. Through an agreement between the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, medical practitioners participating in the Royal College MOC Program may record completion of accredited activities registered under the ACCME's "CME in Support of MOC" program in Section 3 of the Royal College's MOC Program. This home study course is approved by the Florida Board of Nursing Home Administrators for 1 credit hour(s). This course is approved by the California Nursing Home Administrator Program for 1 hour(s) of continuing education credit - NHAP#1622001-9432/P. California NHAs may only obtain a maximum of 10 hours per course. NetCE is authorized by IACET to offer 0.1 CEU(s) for this program. NetCE designates this continuing education activity for 1 credit(s). AACN Synergy CERP Category A.

Individual State Nursing Approvals

In addition to states that accept ANCC, NetCE is approved as a provider of continuing education in nursing by: Alabama, Provider #ABNP0353, (valid through July 29,2025); Alabama, Provider #ABNP0353, (valid through July 29, 2025); Arkansas, Provider #50-2405; California, BRN Provider #CEP9784; California, LVN Provider #V10662; California, PT Provider #V10842; District of Columbia, Provider #50-2405; Florida, Provider #50-2405; Georgia, Provider #50-2405; Kentucky, Provider #7-0054 through 12/31/2025; South Carolina, Provider #50-2405; South Carolina, Provider #50-2405. West Virginia RN and APRN, Provider #50-2405.

Individual State Behavioral Health Approvals

In addition to states that accept ASWB, NetCE is approved as a provider of continuing education by the following state boards: Alabama State Board of Social Work Examiners, Provider #0515; Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling, CE Broker Provider #50-2405; Illinois Division of Professional Regulation for Social Workers, License #159.001094; Illinois Division of Professional Regulation for Licensed Professional and Clinical Counselors, License #197.000185; Illinois Division of Professional Regulation for Marriage and Family Therapists, License #168.000190;

Special Approvals

This activity is designed to comply with the requirements of California Assembly Bill 1195, Cultural and Linguistic Competency.

Course Objective

The purpose of this course is to bridge the gap in knowledge of palliative care at the time of imminent death and in skills necessary to support patients and families in the moments before death.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this course, you should be able to:

  1. Develop a strategy for providing care to patients and their families over the last days and hours of life.
  2. Support appropriate grief and mourning.
  3. Discuss how culture impacts end of life care and death.


Lori L. Alexander, MTPW, ELS, MWC, is President of Editorial Rx, Inc., which provides medical writing and editing services on a wide variety of clinical topics and in a range of media. A medical writer and editor for more than 30 years, Ms. Alexander has written for both professional and lay audiences, with a focus on continuing education materials, medical meeting coverage, and educational resources for patients. She is the Editor Emeritus of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) Journal, the peer-review journal representing the largest association of medical communicators in the United States. Ms. Alexander earned a Master’s degree in technical and professional writing, with a concentration in medical writing, at Northeastern University, Boston. She has also earned certification as a life sciences editor and as a medical writer.

Alice Yick Flanagan, PhD, MSW, received her Master’s in Social Work from Columbia University, School of Social Work. She has clinical experience in mental health in correctional settings, psychiatric hospitals, and community health centers. In 1997, she received her PhD from UCLA, School of Public Policy and Social Research. Dr. Yick Flanagan completed a year-long post-doctoral fellowship at Hunter College, School of Social Work in 1999. In that year she taught the course Research Methods and Violence Against Women to Masters degree students, as well as conducting qualitative research studies on death and dying in Chinese American families.

Previously acting as a faculty member at Capella University and Northcentral University, Dr. Yick Flanagan is currently a contributing faculty member at Walden University, School of Social Work, and a dissertation chair at Grand Canyon University, College of Doctoral Studies, working with Industrial Organizational Psychology doctoral students. She also serves as a consultant/subject matter expert for the New York City Board of Education and publishing companies for online curriculum development, developing practice MCAT questions in the area of psychology and sociology. Her research focus is on the area of culture and mental health in ethnic minority communities.

Faculty Disclosure

Contributing faculty, Lori L. Alexander, MTPW, ELS, MWC, has disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

Contributing faculty, Alice Yick Flanagan, PhD, MSW, has disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

Division Planners

John M. Leonard, MD

Jane C. Norman, RN, MSN, CNE, PhD

James Trent, PhD

Division Planners Disclosure

The division planners have disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

Director of Development and Academic Affairs

Sarah Campbell

Director Disclosure Statement

The Director of Development and Academic Affairs has disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

About the Sponsor

The purpose of NetCE is to provide challenging curricula to assist healthcare professionals to raise their levels of expertise while fulfilling their continuing education requirements, thereby improving the quality of healthcare.

Our contributing faculty members have taken care to ensure that the information and recommendations are accurate and compatible with the standards generally accepted at the time of publication. The publisher disclaims any liability, loss or damage incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application of any of the contents. Participants are cautioned about the potential risk of using limited knowledge when integrating new techniques into practice.

Disclosure Statement

It is the policy of NetCE not to accept commercial support. Furthermore, commercial interests are prohibited from distributing or providing access to this activity to learners.

Technical Requirements

Supported browsers for Windows include Microsoft Internet Explorer 9.0 and up, Mozilla Firefox 3.0 and up, Opera 9.0 and up, and Google Chrome. Supported browsers for Macintosh include Safari, Mozilla Firefox 3.0 and up, Opera 9.0 and up, and Google Chrome. Other operating systems and browsers that include complete implementations of ECMAScript edition 3 and CSS 2.0 may work, but are not supported. Supported browsers must utilize the TLS encryption protocol v1.1 or v1.2 in order to connect to pages that require a secured HTTPS connection. TLS v1.0 is not supported.

Implicit Bias in Health Care

The role of implicit biases on healthcare outcomes has become a concern, as there is some evidence that implicit biases contribute to health disparities, professionals' attitudes toward and interactions with patients, quality of care, diagnoses, and treatment decisions. This may produce differences in help-seeking, diagnoses, and ultimately treatments and interventions. Implicit biases may also unwittingly produce professional behaviors, attitudes, and interactions that reduce patients' trust and comfort with their provider, leading to earlier termination of visits and/or reduced adherence and follow-up. Disadvantaged groups are marginalized in the healthcare system and vulnerable on multiple levels; health professionals' implicit biases can further exacerbate these existing disadvantages.

Interventions or strategies designed to reduce implicit bias may be categorized as change-based or control-based. Change-based interventions focus on reducing or changing cognitive associations underlying implicit biases. These interventions might include challenging stereotypes. Conversely, control-based interventions involve reducing the effects of the implicit bias on the individual's behaviors. These strategies include increasing awareness of biased thoughts and responses. The two types of interventions are not mutually exclusive and may be used synergistically.

#97500: Imminent Death and Loss


In the last days, the goals of the healthcare team are to ensure a peaceful death for the patient and to support the family during the dying process and throughout grief and mourning. The focus for the patient is management of symptoms and emotional and spiritual ease, and the focus for the family is education to prepare them for the dying process.


During the last days, all care should be directed at comfort, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has listed several interventions for imminently dying patients (Table 1) [1]. The physician should minimize the number of medications by reassessing the need for each one. The symptoms that occur most commonly during the last days are pain, noisy breathing, dyspnea, and delirium, and medications to manage these symptoms should be maintained or initiated [2]. In addition, medication may be required to reduce the risk of seizures. Medications should be prescribed for the least invasive route of administration (oral or buccal mucosa), but patients may lose the ability to swallow, making a subcutaneous, transdermal, or intravenous route necessary.


Intensify ongoing care.
Try to ensure privacy (if not at home, arrange for private room if possible).
Discontinue diagnostic tests.
Reposition for comfort as appropriate.
Avoid unnecessary needle sticks.
Provide mouth care (e.g., hydrogen peroxide/water solution).
Treat for urinary retention and fecal impaction.
Ensure access to medication even when oral route is not available.
Prepare to meet request for organ donation and autopsy.
Allow patient and family uninterrupted time together.
Ensure the patient and family understand the signs and symptoms of imminent death and are supported through the dying process.
Offer anticipatory bereavement support.
Provide support to children and grandchildren.
Encourage visits by children if consistent with family values.
Support culturally meaningful rituals.
Facilitate around-the-clock family presence.
Ensure that caregivers understand and will honor advance directives.
Provide respectful space for families.
Facilitate closure.

Treatment of pain should continue, and knowledge of opioid pharmacology becomes critical during the last hours of life [2,3]. The metabolites of morphine and some other opioids remain active until they are cleared through the kidneys. If urine output stops, alternative opioids, such as fentanyl or methadone, should be considered, as they have inactive metabolites [4,5].

Anticholinergic medications can eliminate the so-called "death rattle" brought on by the build-up of secretions when the gag reflex is lost or swallowing is difficult. However, it is important to note that results of clinical trials examining various pharmacologic agents for the treatment of death rattle have so far been inconclusive [6]. Despite the lack of clear evidence, pharmacologic therapies continue to be used frequently in clinical practice [3]. Specific drugs used include scopolamine, glycopyrrolate, hyoscyamine, and atropine (Table 2) [2,3,7]. Glycopyrrolate may be preferred because it is less likely to penetrate the central nervous system and with fewer adverse effects than with other antimuscarinic agents, which can worsen delirium [3]. For patients with advanced kidney disease, the dose of glycopyrrolate should be reduced 50% (because evidence indicates that the drug accumulates in renal impairment) and hyoscine butylbromide should not be used (because of a risk of excessive drowsiness or paradoxical agitation) [4]. Some evidence suggests that treatment is more effective when given earlier; however, if the patient is alert, the dryness of the mouth and throat caused by these medications can be distressful. Repositioning the patient to one side or the other or in the semiprone position may reduce the sound. Oropharyngeal suctioning is not only often ineffective but also may disturb the patient or cause further distress for the family. Therefore, it is not recommended.


Scopolamine (transdermal patch)
One (1.5-mg) patch applied behind the ear and changed every 72 hours
Onset of action may be delayed several hours, so other anticholinergic treatment should be provided until effective.
Glycopyrrolate0.2–0.4 mg SC, repeat at 30 minutes, then every 4 to 6 hours, as needed; or 0.6–1.2 mg/day CSCI
Hyoscyamine0.4 mg SC, repeat at 30 minutes, then every 2 to 4 hours, as needed; or 0.6–1.2 mg/day CSCI
Atropine0.4–0.8 mg SC, repeat every 2 to 4 hours
CSCI = continuous subcutaneous infusion, SC = subcutaneously.

Terminal delirium occurs before death in 50% to 90% of patients. It is associated with shorter survival and complicates symptom assessment, communication, and decision making. It can be extremely distressing to caregivers and healthcare professionals alike [3]. Safety measures include protecting patients from accidents or self-injury. Reorientation strategies are of little use during the final hours of life. Education and support for families witnessing a loved one's delirium are warranted [3]. There are few randomized controlled trials on the management of terminal delirium. Agents that can be used to manage delirium include haloperidol, which is frequently the first choice for its relatively quick action [3,8]. Other drugs may include olanzapine, chlorpromazine, levomepromazine, and benzodiazepines [3,8]. For terminal delirium associated with agitation, benzodiazepines, including clonazepam, midazolam, diazepam, and lorazepam may be helpful [3,8,9]. Depending on which drug is used, administration may be intravenous, subcutaneous, or rectal, and the dose can be titrated until effective.

Seizures at the end of life may be managed with high doses of benzodiazepines. Other antiepileptics such as phenytoin (administered intravenously), fosphenytoin (administered subcutaneously), or phenobarbital (60–120 mg rectally, intravenously, or intramuscularly every 10 to 20 minutes as needed) may become necessary until control is established.

A calm and peaceful environment should be maintained for the patient. Family and spiritual leaders should be allowed to carry out traditional rites and rituals associated with death.


Palliative sedation may be considered when an imminently dying patient is experiencing suffering (physical, psychologic, and/or spiritual) that is refractory to the best palliative care efforts. Terminal restlessness and dyspnea have been the most common indications for palliative sedation, and thiopental and midazolam are the typical sedatives used [1,10,11]. For patients who have advanced kidney disease, midazolam is recommended, but the dose should be reduced because more unbound drug becomes available [1,4]. Before beginning palliative sedation, the clinician should consult with a psychiatrist and pastoral services (if appropriate) and talk to the patient, family members, and other members of the healthcare team about the medical, emotional, and ethical issues surrounding the decision [1,2,9,12,13]. Formal informed consent should be obtained from the patient or from the healthcare proxy.


Physician-assisted death, or hastened death, is defined as active euthanasia (direct administration of a lethal agent with a merciful intent) or assisted death (aiding a patient in ending his or her life at the request of the patient) [2]. The following are not considered to be physician-assisted death: carrying out a patient's wishes to refuse treatment, withdrawal of treatment, and the use of high-dose opioids with the intent to relieve pain. The American Medical Association Code of Ethics explicitly states, "Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks" [14]. Position statements against the use of physician-assisted death have been issued by many other professional organizations, including the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) [15,16]. The AAHPM states that their position is one of "studied neutrality" [15]. The basis for these declarations is that appropriate hospice care is an effective choice for providing comfort to dying patients.

In 2010, in a first-of-its-kind comprehensive consensus statement, the Heart Rhythm Society in collaboration with the major cardiology, geriatrics, and palliative care societies, emphasized that deactivation of implantable cardioverter-defibrillators is neither euthanasia nor physician-assisted death [17]. The organizations urged clinicians to respect the right of patients to request deactivation.

The NCCN guidelines recommend that physicians explore requests for assisted death and explain to the patient the distinctions among assisted death, treatment withdrawal, and aggressive symptom management [1]. Some states have enacted assisted death statutes. State laws vary, and knowledge of your local statutes is necessary.


Ongoing communication with family members is essential to ensure their well-being as their loved one dies. The healthcare team should discuss what will happen over the course of dying so the family can be better prepared for symptoms such as altered breathing patterns and sounds, terminal delirium, and unconsciousness [1,3,18]. The family should be reassured that what they may think the patient is experiencing is not the patient's actual reality.

The altered breathing patterns that are present as death is imminent are distressful for family members, as they believe that the patient is experiencing a sense of suffocation. Also distressful to family is the sound of the death rattle. The healthcare team should assure family that these signs do not indicate that the patient is suffering and explain that additional therapy will not be of benefit.

Families often misinterpret the early signs of terminal delirium as signs of uncontrollable pain. However, if pain has been adequately managed throughout the delivery of palliative care, such pain will not begin during the last hours. As the patient slips in and out of consciousness, family members may become increasingly distressed about not being able to communicate anymore with their loved one. Although it is unknown what a dying patient can hear, other experiences in medicine suggest that awareness may be greater than the ability to respond. Family members should be encouraged to continue talking with their loved one to help them attain a sense of closure.

Despite the best efforts to prepare the family, reactions are unpredictable when death occurs. The clinician should take time to answer questions from family members, including children, and perhaps provide information on the physiologic events associated with death [2]. For family members who were not present during the death, the clinician should describe the event, while reassuring them that the patient died peacefully.

Many experts believe that people can handle grief better if they spend time with a loved one immediately after death. Family members should be allowed to touch, hold, and kiss their loved one as they feel comfortable. The healthcare team should respect the needs of the family to conduct personal, cultural, or religious traditions, rites, and rituals.


Palliative care extends beyond the patient's death, with the focus shifting to support of the family during bereavement and mourning. Although the terms "grief," "mourning," and "bereavement" are often used interchangeably, their definitions are different. Grief is a normal reaction to a loss; mourning is the process by which individuals adjust to the loss; and bereavement is the period of time during which grief and mourning occur [2,19]. Psychosocial support of the family is essential throughout the duration of palliative care and can help to decrease the risks of morbidity, substance abuse, and mortality that have been found among spouses and other loved ones of patients who have died [18].


Grief comprises a range of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that fall in the realm of the physical, emotional, and social domains [2]. Individuals may have trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, or other physical symptoms or illness. Emotions can include sadness, anxiety, guilt, and anger. Return to work, activities with friends, and taking care of family can be beneficial.

Grief counseling for the family and patient should begin when the patient is alive, with a focus on life meaning and the contributions from the patient's family. An understanding of the mediators of the grief response can help physicians and other members of the healthcare team recognize the family members who may be at increased risk for adapting poorly to the loss [20]. These mediators are:

  • Nature of attachment (how close and/or dependent the individual was with regard to the patient)

  • Mode of death (the suddenness of the death)

  • Historical antecedents (how the individual has handled loss in the past)

  • Personality variables (factors related to age, gender, ability to express feelings)

  • Social factors (availability of social support, involvement in ethnic and religious groups)

  • Changes and concurrent stressors (number of other stressors in the individual's life, coping styles)

Clinical assessment should be carried out for individuals at risk of complicated grief. Distinguishing between grief and depression can be challenging, as many signs and symptoms are similar. However, the hallmarks of depression are constant and unremitting feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness, anhedonia, and suicidal ideation [8].


Satisfactory adaptation to loss depends on "tasks" of mourning [20]. Previous research referred to "stages" of mourning, but the term "task" is now used because the stages were not clear-cut and were not always followed in the same order. The tasks include:

  • Accepting the reality of the loss

  • Experiencing the pain of the loss

  • Adjusting to the environment in which the deceased is missing (external, internal, and spiritual adjustments)

  • Finding a way to remember the deceased while moving forward with life

After the patient's death, members of the palliative care team should encourage the family to talk about the patient, as this promotes acceptance of the death. Explaining that a wide range of emotions is normal during the mourning process can help family members understand that experiencing these emotions is a necessary aspect of grieving. Frequent contact with family members after the loved one's death can ensure that the family is adjusting to the loss. Referrals for psychosocial and spiritual interventions should be made as early as possible to optimize their efficacy.


Bereavement support should begin immediately with a handwritten condolence note from the clinician. Such notes have been found to provide comfort to the family [21,22]. The physician should emphasize the personal strengths of the family that will help them cope with the loss and should offer help with specific issues. Attendance at the patient's funeral, if possible, is also appropriate.

How bereavement services are provided through a hospice/palliative care program vary. Programs usually involve contacting the family at regular intervals to provide resources on grieving, coping strategies, professional services, and support groups [1,9]. When notes are sent, family members should be invited to contact the physician or other members of the healthcare team with questions. Notes are especially beneficial at the time of the first holidays without the patient, significant days for the family (patient's birthday, spouse's birthday), and the anniversary of the patient's death. Bereavement services should extend for at least one year after the patient's death, but a longer period may be necessary [9,18].


Cultural sensitivity consists of promoting trust and mutual respect for cultural differences between providers and patients [23]. In end-of-life care, an understanding of cultural differences in beliefs about grieving is necessary. In Western culture, grieving is expected to be time-limited, and extended grieving can be considered pathologic [24]. However, in other cultures, extended periods of grieving are socially sanctioned.

Cultural groups adhere to culturally laden beliefs about death rituals, death symbols, language, gender roles, advanced care planning, end-of-life directives, and bereavement and grief. As a result, a provider's level of cultural competence will influence how he or she interacts with patients and family members during the end of life, ultimately influencing how patients and families perceive the end-of-life experience [25]. In traditional Asian families, for example, the eldest son may be designated to make key health and end-of-life decisions [26]. Various cultural groups will have specific norms about the expression of emotion during funerals. White Protestant individuals, for example, may value stoicism, while the Chinese equate the amount of wailing to the amount of respect paid to the deceased [27]. Crying that involves shaking of the body is considered cathartic and a normal reaction in some cultures [28].

It is also important to consider intersectionality in discussions of cultural competence. Individuals do not belong in one category in terms of their identity. Often, patients have overlapping identities (e.g., sex/gender, socioeconomic status, religion, class, sexual orientation, racial/ethnic minority group). This contributes to discrimination and marginalization, which influences how one experiences death and dying [29]. Some experts assert that the word "competence" in cultural competence is a misnomer, because it implies that providers can obtain a "rational mastery and application of knowledge" [30]. End-of-life care planning is complex, and cultural competence entails being reflective and accessing one's intuition.


When patients and their families are confronted with a terminal illness and issues of death and dying, it is undoubtedly a time of grief and stress. Although patients and families require support during this period, practitioners may be uncomfortable witnessing grief, as it may raise personal issues about their own mortality. Palliative care eases the burden of suffering experienced by patients approaching life's end and provides for grief counseling and bereavement services for a family adjusting to loss.

Works Cited

1. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Palliative Care. Version 2.2021. Available at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/palliative.pdf. Last accessed October 19, 2021.

2. Berger AM, O'Neill JF (eds). Principles & Practice of Palliative Care & Supportive Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2022.

3. National Cancer Institute. Last Days of Life—Health Professional Version. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/advanced-cancer/caregivers/planning/last-days-hp-pdq. Last accessed October 19, 2021.

4. Douglas C, Murtagh FE, Chambers EJ, Howse M, Ellershaw J. Symptom management for the adult patient dying with advanced chronic kidney disease: a review of the literature and development of evidence-based guidelines by a United Kingdom Expert Consensus Group. Palliat Med. 2009;23(2):103-110.

5. Manfredonia J. Prescribing methadone for pain management in end-of-life care. JAOA. 2005;105(3 Suppl):18S-21S.

6. Lokker ME, van Zuylen L, van der Rijt CC, et al. Prevalence, impact, and treatment of death rattle: a systematic review. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2014;47(1):105-122.

7. Wee B, Hillier R. Interventions for noisy breathing in patients near to death. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(1):CD005177.

8. Doyle D, Woodruff R. The IAHPC Manual of Palliative Care. 3rd ed. Houston, TX: International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care Press; 2013.

9. Abrahm JL. A Physician's Guide to Pain and Symptom Management in Cancer Patients. 3rd ed. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press; 2014.

10. Elsayem A, Curry E III, Boohene J, et al. Use of palliative sedation for intractable symptoms in the palliative care unit of a comprehensive cancer center. Support Care Cancer. 2009;17(1):53-59.

11. Rietjens JA, van Zuylen L, van Veluw H, van der Wijk L, van der Heide A, van der Rijt CC. Palliative sedation in a specialized unit for acute palliative care in a cancer hospital: comparing patients dying with and without palliative sedation. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2008;36(3):228-234.

12. Lo B, Rubenfeld G. Palliative sedation in dying patients. JAMA. 2005;294:1810-1816.

13. Kirk T, Mahon M. National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) position statement and commentary on the use of palliative sedation in imminently dying terminally ill patients. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2010;39(5):914-923.

14. American Medical Association. Ethics: Physician-Assisted Suicide. Available at https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/ethics/physician-assisted-suicide. Last accessed October 19, 2021.

15. American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Statement on Physician-Assisted Dying. Available at http://aahpm.org/positions/pad. Last accessed October 19, 2021.

16. National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Commentary and Resolution on Physician-Assisted Suicide. Available at https://www.nationalhospiceanalytics.com/library/documents/PAS_resources/NHPCO_PAS_Resolution_Commentary.pdf. Last accessed October 19, 2021.

17. Lampert R, Hayes DL, Annas GJ, et al. HRS expert consensus statement on the management of cardiovascular implantable electronic devices (CIEDs) in patients nearing end of life or requesting withdrawal of therapy. Heart Rhythm. 2010;7(7):1008-1026.

18. National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care. Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care. 4th ed. Richmond, VA: National Coalition for Hospice and Palliative Care; 2018.

19. Stroebe MS, Hansson RO, Schut H, et al. (eds). Handbook of Bereavement Research and Practice: Advances in Theory and Intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2008.

20. Worden JW. Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy. 5th ed. New York, NY: Springer; 2018.

21. Main J. Improving management of bereavement in general practice based on a survey of recently bereaved subjects in a single general practice. Br J Gen Pract. 2000;50:863-866.

22. Bedell S, Cadenhead K, Braboys T. The doctor's letter of condolence: national vital statistics reports final data 1998. N Engl J Med. 2001;344:1161-1162.

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Evidence-Based Practice Recommendations Citations

1. National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Standards of Practice for Hospice Programs. Alexandria, VA: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization; 2018. Available at https://www.nhpco.org/regulatory-and-quality/quality. Last accessed October 22, 2021.

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