Hospice and the Point of No Return: The Intersections of Life, Inevitable Death, and Biopower
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This research focuses on the experiences of hospice patients in central Texas as a means to consider the complex (and somewhat hidden) relationships between dying individuals, a social institution developed to manage inevitable death, and modes of power over life and death in the United States. Through semi-structured interviews with hospice patients and hospice social workers, this research considers the ways in which a focus on life prevails in a social institution for inevitable death. After careful scrutiny, hospice reveals itself as a site for the exercise of Michel Foucault’s concept of biopower, but in different and innovative ways. The life-centric focus, relationship of expert discourses to individuals, and notions of control over life and death characteristic of biopower all persist in hospice. The life-centric focus of biopower manages and optimizes the remaining lives of patients. Expert discourses and specialized forms of knowledge dictate the care of the patient, guide and shape their experience with end-of-life, and contribute to the control of patients. Control over end-of-life on behalf of patients, which is at best an illusion, does not exist in the way hospice claims it does. In reality, hospice patients themselves are controlled. However, the life-affirming aspect of biopower, as well as the illusion of control, prove to be beneficial for hospice patients.