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New publication investigates breathless patients’ use​ of medical objects in a​ palliative setting

22 June 2020

A new publication from the Life of Breath project focuses on experiences of breathlessness in adults with advanced non-malignant lung disease and their relationship with health objects.

The paper, entitled 'Objects of safety and imprisonment:​ Breathless patients’ use​ of medical objects in a​palliative setting', was co-written by Professor Havi Carel, medical historian Dr Coreen McGuire, and Kate Binnie, a palliative care music therapist and researcher. 

The issue of patients suffering from breathlessness and their relationship with health objects is especially relevant now​ during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the experiences of breathlessness and​ dependence on related medical objects have sudden and global relevance.

These​ objects include ambulatory oxygen, oxygen concentrators and inhalers, and​ non-pharmacological objects such as self-monitoring devices and self-management ​technologies. 

The authors consider this relationship between things and people using​ an interdisciplinary approach employing psychoanalytic theory (in particular Winnicott’s​ theory of object relations and object use), Science and Technology Studies (STS) and​ phenomenology. This collaborative approach allows them to relate patient use of health​ objects to ways of thinking about the body, dependency, autonomy, safety and sensemaking​ within the context of palliative care.
The authors illustrate the theoretical​ discussion with three reflective vignettes from therapeutic practice and conclude​ by suggesting further interdisciplinary research to develop the conceptual and​ practice-based links between psychoanalytic theory, STS and phenomenology to​ better understand individual embodied experiences of breathlessness. They call for​ palliative care-infused, psychoanalytically informed interventions that acknowledge breathless patients’ dependence on things and people, concomitant with the need for​ autonomy in being-towards-dying.
The Life of Breath project ran for five years until March 2020, funded by the Wellcome Trust and hosted by the Department of Philosophy.

Further information

Binnie K, Carel HH & McGuire C (2020) Objects of safety and imprisonment: Breathless patients’ use of medical objects in a palliative setting

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