The World Health Organisation defines palliative care¹ 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:

    • provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms
    • affirms life and regards dying as a normal process
    • intends neither to hasten or postpone death
    • integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care
    • offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death
    • offers a support system to help the family cope during the patients illness and in their own bereavement
    • uses a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavement counselling, if indicated
    • will enhance quality of life, and may also positively influence the course of illness
    • is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and includes those investigations needed to better understand and manage distressing clinical complications.’

Palliative care for children

The World Health Organisation states that ‘palliative care for children‘ represents a special, albeit closely related field to adult palliative care:

    • ‘Palliative care for children is the active total care of the child’s body, mind and spirit, and also involves giving support to the family.
    • It begins when illness is diagnosed, and continues regardless of whether or not a child receives treatment directed at the disease.
    • Health providers must evaluate and alleviate a child’s physical, psychological, and social distress.
    • Effective palliative care requires a broad multidisciplinary approach that includes the family and makes use of available community resources; it can be successfully implemented even if resources are limited.
    • It can be provided in tertiary care facilities, in community health centres and even in children’s homes.’

The palliative approach

Palliative Care Australia states that a palliative approach is used by primary care services and practitioners to improve quality of life for individuals with a life limiting illness, their caregiver/s and family.

The palliative approach incorporates a concern for the holistic needs of patients and caregiver/s that is reflected in assessment and in the primary treatment of pain and in the provision of physical, psychological, social and spiritual care.

Application of the palliative approach to the care of an individual is not delayed until the end stages of their illness. Instead, it provides a focus on active comfort-focussed care and a positive approach to reducing suffering and promoting understanding of loss and bereavement in the wider community.

Underlying the philosophy of a palliative approach is the view that death, dying and bereavement are all an integral part of life.


(1) ‘WHO Definition of Palliative Care’, World Health Organization website, accessed May 2014 at