Dignity in the Terminally Ill: A Developing Empirical Model
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Nursing and Public Health
Despite use of the term dignity in arguments for and against a patient’s self-governance in matters pertaining to death, there is little empirical research on how this term has been used by patients who are nearing death. The objective of this study was to determine how dying patients understand and define the term dignity, in order to develop a model of dignity in the terminally ill. A semi-structured interview was designed to explore how patients cope with their advanced cancer and to detail their perceptions of dignity. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. A consecutive sample of 50 consenting patients with advanced terminal cancer were recruited over a 15-month period of time from an urban extended care hospital housing a specialized unit for palliative care. This unit provides both inpatient services, and coordinates end-of-life care community based programming. Data were analysed using latent content analysis and constant comparison techniques. Four members of the research team independently coded the transcribed data, to develop conceptually meaningful categories of responses. Operational definitions were written for major categories, themes and sub-themes. Three major categories emerged from the qualitative analysis, including illness-related concerns; dignity conserving repertoire; and social dignity inventory. These broad categories and their carefully defined themes and sub-themes form the foundation for an emerging model of dignity amongst the dying. The concept of dignity and the dignity model offer a way of understanding how patients face advancing terminal illness. This will serve to promote dignity and the quality of life of patients nearing death.