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What is a good death? A critical discourse policy analysis
  1. Erica Borgstrom
  1. School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Erica Borgstrom, School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, Open University, Milton Keynes MK6 7AA, UK; erica.borgstrom{at}


Objective The concept of a good death is a motivating factor for end of life care policy; this article examines what English end-of-life care (EOLC) policy defines as a good death.

Methods Critical discourse analysis of policy documents and policy-promoting materials published between 2008 and 2016.

Results Policy explicitly defines a good death as having the following attributes: being treated as an individual, with dignity and respect; being without pain and other symptoms; being in familiar surroundings and being in the company of close family and/or friends. Critical discourse analysis of 54 documents found that rather than just being an outcome or event, descriptions of what makes a death good also include many processes. A more extended definition includes: the person receives holistic EOLC; the dying person is treated with dignity and respect; the death is not sudden and unexpected; people are prepared and have ideally done some advance care planning; people are aware that someone is dying and openly discuss this; on knowing the dying person’s preferences, all involved are to work towards achieving these; the place of death is important; the person’s family are involved and the needs of the bereaved are considered.

Conclusion This analysis indicates the complex nature of the current discourses around good death in EOLC policy, which often focuses on care rather than death. Policy should focus on outlining what quality end-of-life care looks like, rather than assume ‘good death’ is a suitable outcome statement.

  • terminal care
  • cultural issues
  • end of life care

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  • Funding This study was funded by Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness (Mildred Blaxter Postdoctoral Fellowship) and National Institute of Health Research Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (Doctoral Studentship).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement The data from this study has not been deposited in a data repository. Policy documents from the Department of Health are available via the government’s websites.