Monthly Archives: November 2012

Vacancy: full time early stage or junior researcher for research on palliative care in dementia (Belgium)

European Research Project EURO IMPACT  “European Intersectorial and Multi-disciplinary Palliative Care Research Training” (EU 7th Framework Programme) is looking for a full time early stage or junior researcher (m/f) for research on palliative care in dementia (Belgium)

EURO IMPACT aims to develop a multi-disciplinary, multi-professional and intersectorial educational and research training framework in Europe, aimed at monitoring and improving the quality of palliative care in Europe. The consortium of EURO IMPACT involves 11 partners from 6 European countries, representing a number of disciplines and professions, and trains 12 early stage researchers and 4 experienced researchers in scientific and complementary skills. The End-of-Life Care Research Group of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Brussels, Belgium, directed by Prof. dr. Luc Deliens, coordinates the project. Project website:

General Job Description• conducting research in the field of palliative care for people with dementia and this in a European context • writing papers for peer reviewed journals • making a doctoral dissertation • working with existing databases and/or within existing European research projects • collaborating with other researchers across Europe

Research project: • Provision of high quality palliative care for people with dementia is a major challenge for future health care • Aim of this project is to describe and compare quality of palliative care for patients with dementia in different European countries • Different aspects of quality of care will be studied eg communication, end-of-life decision-making, advance care planning, use and accessibility of palliative care, aggressiveness of care and treatments received at the end of life, and quality of dying, using a number of retrospective and prospective data that have been or are being gathered across Europe

Condition of mobility• You should be prepared to be based in Belgium • You cannot have resided/worked in Belgium for more than 12 months over the past 3 years

General Job Profile and required Skills • MSc or MA in psychology, sociology, health sciences, medicine, nursing, anthropology, philosophy, epidemiology or other related discipline or an equivalent degree which formally entitles someone to embark on a doctorate • less than 4 years of full-time research experience • fluent in written and oral English • team player • able to work independently • basic computer skills • research knowledge and skills • commitment to palliative care

Work site: •Vrije Universiteit Brussel, End-of-Life Care Research Group, Brussels, Belgium

What we offer• full time research position for 3 years in Belgium, starting as soon as possible • a research training programme (on-the-job training, structured training courses, networkwide training) provided by institutes at the forefront of palliative care research, focusing on scientific and complementary skills training such as societal dissemination to a wider international audience • monthly salary with full social security coverage  • during 16 months you receive additional monthly mobility allowances (ie €500/month) and annual travel allowances • Also included is a €2000 career exploratory allowance and a training and research budget.

Interested? •Please send your curriculum vitae including (1) research experience and duration; (2) academic and professional qualifications and grades; (3) country of current residence and experience/stays abroad to Prof. dr. Lieve Van den Block, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, End-of-Life Care Research Group:

More information? •Prof Lieve Van den Block • • Tel +32 474 78 18 72 •

Deadline: Dec 10th 2012

Welcome to our virtual book club!

Every month we will review a book that influences, or has influenced, research on culture and end-of-life care. To kick off our book club series we’ll be having a look at Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning, ‘The Denial of Death’.

In Denial of Death, published nearly 40 years ago, Becker builds on previously developed ideas (in his earlier books, “The birth and death of meaning: a perspective in psychiatry and anthropology” and “The escape from evil”) to eloquently argue that fear of death is the primary, unconscious, motivating force underpinning all human action.

Becker reinterprets the theories of Freud: taking inspiration from the works of the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and the psychologist Otto Rank, he uses an ‘existential’ rather than sexual framework.

Becker argues that humans are caught in an existential dilemma: we are mortal beings conscious of our own mortality. Differentiated from the animal kingdom due to our symbolic identity, we are nonetheless consigned to the same fate as every animal. Hence this is our core problem: we are “simultaneously worms and Gods”.

As they grow, children become aware of their bodily, and hence mortal, nature. This awareness produces anxiety – a ‘terror’ – that must be repressed in order to continue as a member of society. Repression of the fear of death is therefore innate and universal; as Becker puts it, ‘Everything man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate’.

‘Heroism’ is a reflex response to this ‘terror’: the need to triumph over death through forming part of something larger and immortal. Not only is our character formed to repress awareness of death, but also culture is described as a symbolic action system designed to serve human heroism.

Such a description of human society sounds, from the outset, rather noble: a system that supports heroic intentions. Becker however argues that from these noble intentions, ‘evil’ develops: conflicts and wars are, essentially, battles over immortality projects.

In addition to developing a theory of character, culture and even evil, Becker convincingly reinterprets Freud’s most famous theories, applying his existential ‘death anxiety’ framework, and outlines how mental illness is linked to too little or too much repression of the terror of death. ‘Good’ mental health is associated with not having too many, or the wrong sorts, of repressions. However, as everyone experiences death anxiety, freedom from repression is impossible. The most anyone can hope for is ‘a kind of relaxed openness to experience that makes him less of a burden on others’. This openness can be achieved by exploring the fear of death to get closer to the ‘authentic self’

Becker’s theory of culture can be seen as functionalist: immortality projects are a latent function of cultural-systems. Critiques of sociological functionalist perspectives are therefore also applicable to Becker’s work. Even though functionalist approaches remain unfashionable, the influence of the Denial of Death is still huge; a quick search in google scholar reveals over 10,000 articles published on terror management theory (directly derived from Becker’s work) in 2012 alone.

The enduring appeal of Becker’s work may lie in its hopeful message: facing our fear of death can, ultimately, lead to better lives and better societies.

Reviewer: Natalie Evans

Next month’s book club choices look at the end of life from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective. Natalie will review ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’ by Sogyal Rinpoche  and ‘Life, Death and the After Death’ by Lama Yeshe on December 20th.

 If you would like to suggest a book for review, or indeed review a book yourself, please get in contact with Natalie –

Upcoming end-of-life care conferences

For those of you interested in the global development of palliative care – here are a couple of dates for your diaries….




Traditional Healers’ Views of the Required Processes for a “Good Death” Among Xhosa Patients Pre- and Post-Death

An interesting article has recently been published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management concerning Xhosa traditional healers’ views of a ‘good death’. The abstract is reproduced below and the full article can be accessed here.


South Africa faces enormous HIV-related mortality and increasing cancer incidence. Traditional healers are the preferred source of advice and care in Africa, and this is true for the large Xhosa ethnic group.


To provide more appropriate multidimensional, culturally suitable care at the end of life; this study aimed to identify the care needs and cultural practices of Xhosa patients and families at the end of life, from the perspective of traditional healers.


The study design was qualitative and cross-sectional. The research took place in a 300 km radius around East London, and Eastern Cape, South Africa. Interviewees were Xhosa individuals, who were recognized by their communities as traditional healers. Data from two focus groups and eight individual interviews were analyzed, using an inductive thematic approach.


Data were elicited around the facilitation of a good death in terms of care needs before death and important rituals after death. Care needs before death focused on relief of psychosocial suffering; the importance of the spoken word at the deathbed; and the importance of a relationship and spiritual connection at the end of life. There were broad similarities across the rituals described after death, but these rituals were recognized to differ according to family customs or the dying person’s wishes.


Awareness of potential needs at the end of life can assist clinicians to understand the choices of their patients and develop effective end-of-life care plans that improve the outcomes for patients and families.

Citation: Graham N, Gwyther L, Tiso T, Harding R (2012) Traditional Healers’ Views of the Required Processes for a “Good Death” Among Xhosa Patients Pre- and Post-Death. J Pain Symptom Manage [Epub ahead of print].