The dying role

Linda L Emanuel*, Katherine Bennett, Virginia E. Richardson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Background: Roles are relevant during the last stage of the life cycle, as at any other stage. Awareness and an understanding of the dying role have the capacity to guide the process. Lack thereof can impede good deaths and may have been in part responsible for the intense and often futile interventions provided to many dying patients in the past. Objective and design: We describe relevant aspects of role theory and recent scholarship and then examine the dying role, describing three key elements: the practical element, which involves concrete tasks of preparation; the relational element, which involves engaging with others; and the personal element, which involves tasks that foster personal growth and finishing one's life story. We also identify some barriers to and misuses of the dying role that appear to limit productive engagement with it, and offer suggestions for how clinicians can assist patients with the dying role. Results and conclusion: The described elements of the dying role, and appreciation of how to avoid barriers and facilitate its implementation, can help patients access the unique quality of life that can occur near the end of life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-168
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of palliative medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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