Living with Dying

Information - Palliative care

Palliative care is a specialist method and approach to caring provided by a healthcare team for those who are not going to get better. Palliative care is offered in most cases to those whose underlying illness cannot be cured and its purpose is to relieve symptoms of illness that are caused pain or discomfort and to improve the quality of life.  

Palliative care should be available early in the course of the illness and should be used alongside other therapies that are intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.  

Palliative care is not the practice of euthanasia.

A definition of palliative care by the World Health Organisation in 2017 states that palliative care should:
  • provide relief from pain and other distressing symptoms
  • affirm life and regards dying as a normal process
  • intend neither to hasten or postpone death
  • integrate the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care
  • offer a support system to help the family cope during the patient's illness and in their own bereavement
  • use a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavement counselling, if indicated
  • enhance quality of life, and may also positively influence the course of illness.
  • is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and includes those investigations needed to better understand and manage distressing clinical complications.

See also our learning and teaching resources on palliative care.

Last reviewed July 2017.


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