Intended for healthcare professionals


Should palliative care be rebranded?

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 28 February 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l881
  1. Kirsty Boyd, Macmillan honorary reader in palliative care1,
  2. Sebastien Moine, senior visiting fellow in primary palliative care1,
  3. Scott A Murray, emeritus professor of primary palliative care1,
  4. Deborah Bowman, professor of medical and clinical ethics and cancer patient2,
  5. Nicole Brun, master of education (research) student3
  1. 1Primary Palliative Care Group, Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics, University of Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2St George’s, University of London, UK
  3. 3Sydney School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, Australia
  1. Corresponding author: Kirsty Boyd kirsty.boyd{at}

Changing perceptions is more important than changing names

Nearly 30 years after the World Health Organization first defined “palliative care,” we are no closer to agreeing what the term means.

Palliative care has driven major improvements in the care of people with life limiting illnesses and fostered more open public discourse about death and dying. National and international policies advocate better access to palliative care for everyone who needs it. The Lancet Commission goes further, describing it as a basic human right in the face of unrelieved suffering affecting millions worldwide.1 The 2018 Astana Declaration endorses palliative care as an essential component of primary healthcare worldwide: “Promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative services, and palliative care must be accessible to all.”2 Yet, stigmatisation of the term among patients, professionals, and the public continues to counter positive messages about its benefits.3

By 2002, WHO had a new definition, which is still in use: “Palliative care is for people with life …

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