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Hospice and Palliative Medicine’s Attempt at an Art of Dying

Thursday, 5 March 2020 - 10:15am

Consider joining us at Christ Church for an evening public lecture and reception 27 May 2020, 5.00pm:

'Hospice and Palliative Medicine’s Attempt at an Art of Dying'

Farr A Curlin, M.D. (Duke University)

The institutions of hospice and palliative medicine provide a helpful alternative to the default pathway of dying in medical institutions—kept alive by technology long past any reasonable hope of recovery. By mitigating distressing symptoms, maintaining healthy functions, locating dying in the home and community, and providing both realistic information and reassuring presence, hospice and palliative medicine can create conditions that help patients to practice what in the middle ages was called ars moriendi (the art of dying). Yet, we should not mistake the death that hospice and palliative medicine can provide—a death with minimal suffering and maximal patient control—for a “good death." This mistake leads medical practitioners to undervalue the consciousness and relational presence that make it possible for patients to participate in the tasks of dying well. In this talk, Dr. Curlin, a palliative medicine physician who teaches about the moral and spiritual dimensions of medical practice, will argue that the practices of palliation should be situated within and governed by medicine’s traditional orientation to the patient’s health. So situated and governed, palliative medicine offers modest but worthy resources to help patients, as well as clergy, family, and friends, recover the practices of living well, and faithfully, in the face of death.

Farr A Curlin, M.D., is Josiah C Trent Professor of Medical Humanities in the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities and History of Medicine, and the Duke Divinity School, at Duke University. 


For further information about the 11th Annual McDonald Centre Conference, 'Ageing, Suffering, and Despair: Toward Patience and Hope for Health and Care', as well as related pre-conference events, go to