José Miguel Carrasco and Carlos Centeno, research fellows on the ATLANTES Research Programme, Institute for Culture and Society
What message do Spanish media convey about palliative care?
What comes into people's heads when they hear news about palliative care? What does society think about care at the end of life? These are just two of the questions that we ask ourselves in the Atlantes Programme: Human Dignity, Advanced disease and Palliative Care, of the University of Navarra (Pamplona, Spain). We know that lack of knowledge and awareness is one of the most important barriers to palliative care services development (1), and that is why one of our research lines consists precisely in studying the ‘messages' related to this type of care. We explore the factors generating the social perception about palliative care, working jointly as health and social sciences professionals.
Mass media are one of the main means of socialisation and public opinion creation (2), and frequently palliative care appears there in its diverse formats (news, interviews, reportages, etc.). Because of its huge influence on people, we decided to explore and describe the ideas and messages on palliative care that are circulating in Spanish mass media.
After searching in eight newspapers, five magazines, five TV channels and four radio stations, we found that a substantial part of palliative care references appearing in the Spanish press, are related to political, organisational and health management or social debate issues. Moreover, they appear in opinion articles linked to dying with dignity, euthanasia, assisted suicide, legislative proposals on end of life, and so on. A noticeable ideological component is identified.
Nevertheless, an informative and educational perspective of palliative care stands out when it appears in specific reportages, especially on radio and TV. When patients, relatives and health professionals' testimonies appear, the human component arises, as well as the quality of life, and the holistic approach; putting back the focus on patients and medicine itself.
Our work shows how the presence of palliative care in mass media does not necessarily guarantee the transmission of messages about the possible benefits of palliative care to patients, to their environment and to the general public. Messages that are ideologically and politically charged might overshadow those with informative and reality-reflective purposes.
To better understand social perceptions about palliative care, the influence of mass media on the general public should never be underestimated. To know ‘who' is saying ‘what' and ‘how', will allow us to design strategies to promote a more positive image of palliative care, based on real practice and our contribution to patients and society.
This post relates to a longer article, ‘What message do Spanish media convey about palliative care?', by José Miguel Carrasco and Carlos Centeno, published in the January/February 2016 issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care (vol. 23.1).