Background As part of the research project “End-of-life Communication in Nursing Homes. Patient Preferences and Participation”, we have studied how Advance Care Planning (ACP) is carried out in eight Norwegian nursing homes. The concept of ACP is a process for improving patient autonomy and communication in the context of progressive illness, anticipated deterioration and end-of-life care. While an individualistic autonomy based attitude is at the fore in most studies on ACP, there is a lack of empirical studies on how family members’ participation and involvement in ACP- conversations may promote nursing home patients’ participation in decisions on future treatment and end-of-life care. Based on empirical data and family ethics perspectives, the purpose of this study is to add insights to the complexity of ACP-conversations and illuminate how a family ethics perspective may improve the quality of the ACP and promote nursing home patients’ participation in advance care planning. Methods Participant observations of ACP-conversations in eight nursing homes. The observations were followed by interviews with patients and relatives together on how they experienced being part of the conversation, and expressing their views on future medical treatment, hospitalization and end-of-life issues. Results We found that the way nursing home patients and relatives are connected and related to each other, constitutes an intertwined unit. Further, we found that relatives’ involvement and participation in ACP- conversations is significant to uncover, and give the nursing home staff insight into, what is important in the nursing home patient’s life at the time. The third analytical theme is patients’ and relatives’ shared experiences of the dying and death of others. Drawing on past experiences can be a way of introducing or talking about death. Conclusions An individual autonomy approach in advance care planning should be complemented with a family ethics approach. To be open to family ethics when planning for the patient’s future in the nursing home is to be open to diversity and nuances and to the significance of the patient’s former life and experiences.
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