Defining dignity in end-of-life care in the emergency department

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Respecting dignity is having a profound effect on the clinical relationship and the care framework for terminally ill patients in palliative care units, hospices and their own homes, with particular consequences for the emergency department. However, dignity is a vague and multifaceted concept that is difficult to measure.


The aim of this study is to define the attributes of dignity in end-of-life care in the emergency department, based on the opinions of physicians and nurses.

Research design:

A hermeneutic phenomenological approach utilising Gadamer's philosophical underpinnings guided the study.

Participants and research context:

This research was conducted in Spain in 2013–2014. Participants included 10 physicians and 16 nurses with experience working in the emergency department. Two focus groups and 12 in-depth interviews were carried out.

Ethical considerations:

The study was approved by the Research Centre Ethical Committee (Andalusian Health Service, Spain).


The results point to the person's inherent value, socio-environmental conditions and conscious actions/attitudes as attributes of dignity when caring for a dying patient in the emergency department.


Dying with dignity is a basic objective in end-of-life care and is an ambiguous but relevant concept for physicians and nurses. In line with our theoretical framework, our results highlight care environment, professional actions and socio-family context as attributes of dignity.


Quality care in the emergency department includes paying attention to the dignity of people in the process of death. The dignity in the care of a dying person in the emergency department is defined by acknowledging the inherent value in each person, socio-environmental conditions and social and individual acceptance of death. Addressing these questions has significant repercussions for health professionals, especially nurses.

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