Article Text

Download PDFPDF

L2 Palliative care in medicine and in life: an existential account
  1. Sheldon Solomon
  1. Skidmore College, USA


‘ is our knowledge that we have to die that makes us human’

Alexander Smith, Of Death and the Fear of Dying (1863)

In this presentation I will argue that: 1) the uniquely human awareness of death engenders potentially debilitating existential terror that is generally managed by embracing cultural worldviews that afford a sense that one is a person of value in a world of meaning; 2) terminal illnesses threaten to tear gaping holes in the culturally-constructed fabric of meaning that we all depend on for psychological equanimity; 3) palliative care, in addition to cutting edge medical attention, serves the critical psycho-social function of helping patients retain, restore, or reform a sense of meaning and significance to enhance existential maturity; 4) meaning-making and dignity-enhancing approaches to palliative care are demonstrably effective; and, 5) people in general would surely benefit from such elements of palliative care in a world presently saturated by intimations of mortality in the form of pandemics, environmental disintegration, economic instability, and political polarization.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.