How does language affect the way a sick person manages End-of-Life? Can encouraging them to “keep fighting” be detrimental to their health? We came across a story in the NY Times about a study called the Metaphor in End of Life Care Project that suggests British doctors who use words like “journey” rather than expressions like “lost the battle” are “putting patients more at ease.”
“People working in the (British) healthcare industry have been discussing (the effects of) military imagery for a decade,” said Elena Semino, a project researcher and head of linguistics at Lancaster University. “There’s a lot of awareness that battle metaphors can be very harmful to patients; professionals are conscious of the problem and they’re advised not to use them.”
British medical practitioners have opted to frame End-of-Life as a “journey” with “pathways” and “steps.” American doctors and palliative care teams are beginning to take notice and adapt to the trend. “The fight metaphor assumes an opponent,” Dr. Semino said. “Fighting has connotations of violence and competitiveness. The goal is to win, and if you don’t succeed, you can feel like a failure.”
It’s impossible to make generalizations when it comes to something as profound as the End-of-Life experience. Dr. Semino points out, for some using “fighting words” helps.
“Some people use fight metaphors as a way to inspire themselves,” Dr. Semino said. “They talk about fighting with a sense of purpose so our view is battle metaphors should not be censored but their limitations should be recognized.” In the end, humans react to End-of-Life differently, “Metaphors are tools, ways to make sense of your experience.” Dr. Semino said. “Some serve better than others, but each of us gets to pick our own.”
Read the story here.