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Phenomenological approaches to palliative care research

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  • Philosophy


The recent debate about a suitable research paradigm for palliative care1 has highlighted the importance of methodologies which are sensitive enough to allow subjective experiences to be elicited with compassion, whilst at the same time conforming to expectations and principles of scientific rigour. One possible framework for addressing this issue lies within the tradition of phenomenology, and this approach has attracted a good deal of interest, particularly among those undertaking research in nursing.2 Phenomenology comes from two Greek words: phainomenon, meaning ‘appearance’ and logos, which denotes ‘reason’. Contemporary phenomenology revolves around the problem of how we make sense of the everyday world. It provides opportunities to tease out some of the concepts, ideas, frameworks and structures of meaning which are found in the day to day world of human interaction. Phenomenology has therefore been attractive to some researchers of health care practice who see in it the potential to illuminate otherwise takenfor- granted assumptions which can exist in the process of giving and receiving care. Benner and Wreubel,3 for example, have applied the ideas to nursing in an attempt to identify the elements in a ‘science of caring’. Studies which make claims to a phenomenological perspective are now appearing in palliative care. Our purpose here therefore is to outline very briefly the fundamental principles of the phenomenological approach and to highlight some key issues which palliative care researchers may wish to consider when assessing the relevance of phenomenology to their

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