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UBC Theses and Dissertations

When medicine cannot cure : dying children, palliative care, and the production of companionship Wainer, Rafael


Although the curative model of medical care is predominant it is necessary to consider the palliative strategies at the end-of-life. The inter-relation of dying children, their families and pediatric palliative care teams are seldom analyzed outside Palliative Care. However, it is important to ethnographically think about the disturbing experiences of body and subject disintegration while people are directly experiencing them, even when the person is a child or a newborn baby. A central topic in this study is how personhood, body formation and disintegration, and childhood can be understood within the context of unevenly constructed and shared palliative communication with and without words. Hence, I analyze in this study how a Palliative Care Team in the city of Buenos Aires provides care, communicates, and ultimately produces a particular companionship to dying children and their families. This work is built on qualitative information gathered and produced during my four-month fieldwork with the Palliative Care Team. The ethnographic techniques (participant observation, non-participant observation and open-ended semi-structured interviews) I conducted show that their strategies of care and communication have as the main goal the process of companionship at the end of children’s lives. It is necessary to understand how patients, parents, and other family members are situated in this field of tensions between restorative and palliative medicine, and brought into this culture of Palliative Care in a public children’s hospital. My research asks, in what ways are pediatric Palliative Care practices exclusive to the social and cultural contexts of Buenos Aires? This work has three main sections: 1. care, 2. communication, and 3. companionship. In section one I focus on the clinical and non-clinical aspects of care involving the professionals’ and volunteers’ practices of giving care. In section two I concentrate my attention on the verbal and non-verbal aspects of the Palliative Care Team communication with children and families. In section three I consider the professional production of ‘companionship’. In this thesis I will demonstrate the significance of this concept according to the Palliative Care Team members and how care and communication are the base for the ‘production of companionship.’

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