Values at the End of Life: The Logic of Palliative Care

Colloquium | February 13 | 4-5:30 p.m. |  Shorb House, Latinx Research Center

 2547 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA 94720

 Roi Livne, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Michigan

 Center for Ethnographic Research

Over the past fifty years, “the end of life” has become the center of extensive economic, policy, ethical, and medical discussions. Health economists measure and evaluate its cost; ethicists debate the morality of various approaches to “end-of-life care”; policymakers ponder alternative “end of life”-related policies; and clinicians apply a specialized approach (hospice and palliative care) to treat patients whom they diagnose as being at “the end of life.” This talk analyzes the proliferation of conversations on “the end of life” as emblematic of a peculiar moment in human history. Ours is a period where modern growth stagnates and the main challenge developed societies face becomes delineating the limits of human agency and governing populations within these limits. Drawing on a combination of historical and ethnographic analysis of the work of palliative care clinicians in three California hospitals, I analyze how the limits of what can be done, medically and financially, to prolong life are communicated to severely ill patients and families.