Scientific article
Open access

Patient altruism at the end of life: A scoping review

Published inPalliative & supportive care, p. 1-13
Publication date2024-04-12
First online date2024-04-12

Abstract Objectives

The concept of altruism is evidenced in various disciplines but remains understudied in end-of-life (EOL) contexts. Patients at the EOL are often seen as passive recipients of care, whereas the altruism of professionals and families receives more research and clinical attention. Our aim was to summarize the state of the scientific literature concerning the concept of patient altruism in EOL contexts.


In May 2023, we searched 11 databases for scientific literature on patient altruism in EOL contexts in consultation with a health information specialist. The scoping review is reported using the PRISMA checklist for scoping reviews. We used a data charting form to deductively extract data from the selected articles and then mapped data into 4 themes related to our research questions: how authors describe and employ the concept of patient altruism; expressions of patient altruism; consequences of patients’ altruistic acts; and possible interventions fostering patient altruism.


Excluding duplicates, 2893 articles were retrieved; 33 were included in the final review. Altruism was generally considered as an act or intention oriented toward the benefit of a specific (known) or non-specific (generic) recipient. Patients expressed altruism through care and support, decisions to withhold treatment or actively hasten death, and engagement in advance care planning. Consequences of altruism were categorized in patient-centered (contribution to meaning in life and quality of life), non-patient-centered (leaving a positive impact and saving money), and negative consequences (generating feelings of guilt, exposing individuals with low self-esteem). Interventions to encourage altruism comprised specific interventions, providing opportunities to plan for future care, and recognizing and respecting the patients’ altruistic motivations.

Significance of results

We identified heterogeneous and limited research conceptualization of patient altruism and its operationalization in palliative care settings. A deeper conceptual, empirical, and theoretical exploration of patient altruism in EOL is necessary.

  • Altruism
  • End of life
  • Palliative care
  • Patients
  • Scoping review
Citation (ISO format)
STERIE, Anca-Cristina et al. Patient altruism at the end of life: A scoping review. In: Palliative & supportive care, 2024, p. 1–13. doi: 10.1017/S1478951524000361
Main files (1)
Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal1478-9515

Technical informations

Creation04/22/2024 12:08:22 PM
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Update time04/23/2024 6:16:20 AM
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