Speaking about dying in the intensive care unit, and its implications for multidisciplinary end-of-life care

Rick Iedema*, Ros Sorensen, Jeffrey Braithwaite, Elizabeth Turnbull

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


This article addresses how professionals working in an intensive care unit in Australia speak about dying, with particular reference to the contradictions and complexities that characterize their work in this setting. The article reflects on the incommensurabilities in these clinicians' talk, and the consequences of this for how different professionals work together and care for extremely ill patients. Examples are drawn from talk recorded during ward rounds and focus groups. The article argues that intensive care units are settings where being reflexive about one's work and assumptions is especially difficult because it involves negotiating decisions and taking moral responsibility for decisions affecting very sick patients. These decisions and responsibilities put into sharp relief the 'wicked problems and tragic choices' of end-of-life existence and of intensive care in specific. This article shows some of the complex ways in which specific clinicians' discourse absorbs and manifests these tensions and responsibilities. The article concludes that these kinds of complexities are unlikely to be resolved with reference to formal knowledge or in-principle conviction, and that a new interactive basis needs to be found where clinicians can rehearse alternative ways of speaking with which to approach each other, the dying, and their families.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-96
Number of pages12
JournalCommunication & medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


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