Sudden death liminality: Dehumanisation and disengagement

Patricia Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose of the research: The purpose of this paper is to understand, the uniquely held beliefs and values of emergency personnel involved in sudden death work and specifically, the process of disengagement in the space between life and death. Method: Ethnographic design enabled the researcher, an experienced emergency nurse, to engage with sudden death encounters in three emergency departments in the North of England. Nine focus groups were simultaneously conducted comprising emergency nurses; emergency paramedics and, police traffic officers. Analysis: Computerised qualitative data analysis software was used to generate sudden death themes and thick description explained the process of disengagement. Findings: Themes generated related to 'role' resignation, uncertainty, obstruction and routinisation; 'legitimacy' concerning age, mode of death and personal analogy; 'emotionality', concerning coping, exhaustion, annoyance and humour and, 'spiritual relevances' concerning relationship and embodiment. The final theme of 'liminality, dehumanisation and disengagement' is selected in this paper and discusses qualitative categories emerging from e.g. preparation of the body, washing the body, wrapping the body, handing over property and valuables, which are presented using direct quotations from the emergency personnel. Discussion: Insight was gained into the expressed perceptions of the emergency personnel in dealing with the intricate, intimate and sometimes emotional moments in sudden death work and the process of disengagement from the deceased. The discussion contributes to the emerging sociology of sudden death.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-16
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Emergency Nursing
Issue number1
Early online date30 Dec 2011
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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