The Ethics of Prioritizing Access to Palliative Care: A Qualitative Study Academic Article uri icon


  • OBJECTIVE:This article sought to explore ethical issues associated with prioritization decisions in palliative care. METHODS:As part of a broader series of studies of triage in palliative care, this qualitative substudy was conducted via semi-structured focus groups and individual interviews. Transcripts were subjected to thematic analysis. SETTING/PARTICIPANTS:Twenty health professionals working across disciplines (primary, specialist; medicine, nursing, and allied health), service types (inpatient, hospital liaison, and community), and locations (metropolitan and rural) in Victoria, Australia. RESULTS:Four themes emerged from the data: (1) Clinicians understood the tension between maintaining service quality with the delivery of a compromised service that sought to respond to demand. (2) They were aware of the influences of relationships and responsibilities upon patient waiting list prioritization, and (3) reported a hierarchy of suffering with certain types of clinical problems viewed as more urgent than others, for example, pain being more urgent than existential distress. (4) Clinicians noted a lack of transparency around waiting lists as they currently exist. CONCLUSIONS:This study revealed key ethical decision-making issues associated with prioritizing access to palliative care services. Making explicit the processes and influences upon decision-making provides greater transparency of health-care utilization at the end of life.


  • Philip, Jennifer
  • Russell, Bethany
  • Collins, Anna
  • Brand, Caroline
  • Le, Brian
  • Hudson, Peter
  • Sundararajan, Vijaya

publication date

  • 2019