Palliative care is provided to people with life limiting illness which cannot be cured, who need help improving and maintaining their quality of life.  Palliative care includes physical, emotional, social and spiritual care needs and supports the person with life threatening illness, their family and carers.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of palliative care is used worldwide, including in Australia.  WHO defines palliative care as ‘an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.

Palliative care:

  • Affirms life and regards dying as a normal process
  • Enhances quality of life, and may also positively influence the course of illness
  • Intends neither to hasten or postpone death
  • Provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms
  • Integrates psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care
  • Offers support to help patients live as actively as possible until death
  • Offers support to help the family and carers cope during the patient’s illness and in their own bereavement
  • Uses a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavement counselling, if required
  • Is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and includes investigations needed to better understand and manage distressing clinical complications.

Palliative care uses a wide range of terminology.  Terminology varies according to where palliative care may be provided, the patient’s illness and how they are at a particular time and the role a palliative care service may have in the patient’s care.  ‘Life threatening illness’, ‘people living with a terminal illness’ and ‘life-limiting illness’ can all be used in different places and times.

The term ‘life threatening illness’ is consistent with the World Health Organization definition of palliative care and is generally widely used.