Research Article

Ethical conflicts in long-term care of the aged: nutritional problems and the patient-care worker relationship.

Br Med J 1980; 280 doi: (Published 09 February 1980) Cite this as: Br Med J 1980;280:377
  1. A Norberg,
  2. B Norberg,
  3. H Gippert,
  4. G Bexell


    The patient-care worker relationship was analysed by observation and unstructured group discussion in four long-stay somatogeriatric wards at Saint Lars Hospital. Investigation centred on patients entering the terminal phase who could no longer be spoon-fed. The relationship was complicated and reciprocal, and failure by the care worker to interpret her role and the dying patient's behaviour correctly led to emotional conflict and double-binding, with resultant anxiety for both herself and the patient. Infusions and tube-feeding prescribed in such cases were given not for the patient's benefit but to relieve anxiety in care workers and relatives. Permitting the patient a natural, painless death from water deficiency may be preferable to prolonging pain and discomfort by intervening with infusion and tube-feeding.