A Chaplain on How to Talk About the Right to Die and Death With Patients

By Diane Rehm

Martha Kay Nelson has had a long career in hospice work. Rather than choosing hospice work, she believes hospice work chose her. Her training was at Harvard Divinity School. She did a yearlong internship as a hospice chaplain during her graduate work. The year after she graduated, she managed to combine her career as a chaplain with her work in hospice. She is in her mid-forties, with short hair and hazel eyes. Her warm, open face, earnest manner, and easy smile help me understand why she is so good at her work. We sit together in her office at Mission Hospice & Home Care in San Mateo, California.

DIANE: How do you feel about California’s “right to die” law?

MARTHA: Well, I have many feelings, and they could vary depending on the day or the hour. It depends on whom I’m talking to, and what her or his experience is. My overall sense about the law is that people have a right to make their own health-care decisions, whether it’s at the end of life or at any time up to that point. I know people have a hard time having these conversations, particularly early on, before they’re even sick. And then they get sick and it’s crisis time, and those decisions have to be made quickly. The End of Life Option Act to me is part of a spectrum of all those decisions and conversations that come at the end. It’s a new end point on that spectrum.

D: You’ve been in a leadership position here at Mission Hospice, not only learning, but teaching. Tell me what have been the elements of transmitting this information to others.

M: It’s been an interesting learning curve. I think even seasoned hospice professionals have had to adjust to a new option for patients, stepping into that terrain. The elements that have been important in teaching staff members, working with health-care partners, have been to get folks to acknowledge at the outset that this is a challenging topic, this is new terrain, there are profound implications, and not to shy away from it.

Some folks here at Mission Hospice didn’t want to participate, but the majority did, to have their questions answered or share some of their thoughts, their concerns. We’ve done this regularly enough that people felt they could talk freely about the End of Life Option Act. We didn’t want it to be whispered about awkwardly in the corner, that this law is coming and our patients are going to have the right to choose the option. As an agency, we’re not advocates for the law, we’re advocates for our patients, and we won’t abandon them. Having said that, any of our employees, if they’re not comfortable, don’t have to participate. They can opt out if they need to, and they would be fully supported.

D: What kinds of questions did you get from staff? What kinds of issues did they raise?

M: At the outset, a lot of general questions about details of the law, how it works, how are we supposed to communicate with our colleagues around it, what can we say to the patient and what can’t we, those kinds of things. Questions arose about accessibility to the law. If I have patients who are saying they just want to end it all, and they’re saying this a lot, but they’re not specifically asking about the law, then can I bring it up with them or not? We have a policy here at Mission Hospice that we let the patient lead. If a patient is inquiring about his or her options, then we will be there.

That’s one kind of question. Other clinicians have asked about folks who haven’t had the chance to be educated about medical aid in dying, or don’t have access to resources where they might have learned about it. What if it’s something they’d like to avail themselves of ? There’s kind of a social justice question there. There are also questions arising from specific cases. Every case is different.

D: Can you give me an idea of how many patients have actually come forward and asked you about the right to die?

M: We’ve been tracking some of these numbers, and to date, we’ve served around forty-five people since California’s law went into effect, which was a lot more than we anticipated. When back in 2016 we set out to draft our policy and prepare ourselves, we thought maybe we’d have four or five people in the first year. We had twenty-one. And about that same number inquired about the law, but never went all the way through the process. Either they actually died before they had a chance to use the law, or they changed their minds. I would imagine that it was split evenly.

D: Tell me about the process. So a patient comes to you and asks about the process, the law. How do you respond?

M: My initial response as a chaplain would be one of curiosity. I’d be interested in learning more about their thoughts and why they’re asking. It’s a big thing to ask about. Sometimes people are afraid to even inquire. They’re afraid of being shamed or judged. So I’d want to let that person know that I’m glad they’re asking. And then we’d have a conversation, whatever they would wish to say at that time. Next, I would contact the doctor and the rest of my interdisciplinary team members and would let them know the topic had been broached. Then a doctor would probably go and make a direct visit, which would be considered the first formal request, if the decision was made to pursue that course.

We really encourage the other team members to make sure they keep talking to one another—the social worker, the nurse, the spiritual counselor, home health aides, and volunteers who might also be involved. Through a team effort, we would need to have clarity on how much privacy the patient would want. Patients have the right under the law to not tell anyone but the doctors they’re working with, not even family members. Our experience has been that that’s not often the case. Usually there is communication with family.

D: Who makes the initial judgment that the patient has six months or less to live?

M: The attending physician on the case. And if the patient inquires about the law, and his or her doctor says, “I’m not comfortable being involved with this,” that’s one way we might get involved. Or it might be a hospice patient already on our service.

D: I saw in your waiting room a brochure for Death Cafes. Can you tell me about them?

M: The Death Cafe movement started several years ago in England. It’s basically having a conversation over coffee and cakes in a public venue. Anyone is welcome to attend, and the purpose is open-ended. The goal is to talk about death in any way you wish. There does need to be a facilitator, someone who is able to establish ground rules in etiquette so folks aren’t talking over one another. Folks that host them tend to have some level of experience in end-of- life care, in thanatology, but anyone can sign up. I’ve led a couple of them.

D: How successful do you think Death Cafes are as teaching tools, as comforting elements in the whole discussion of death?

M: I think Death Cafes are successful in meeting the needs of folks who already want to talk about death. If you show up at a Death Cafe, there’s something in you that is already ready to speak and to hear what other people are thinking. It can serve as a cross-pollination of ideas and thoughts, and normalization. The cafes meet a kind of thirst that we have in our culture to speak about these things openly and not be afraid. How you get people to Death Cafes is another question. I’ve had some people say they’re offended by that name, or they don’t want to attend a Death Cafe because it sounds morbid.

D: What is the best way to reach people? How do we get the conversation started even before we’re sick?

M: There’s no one best way. It’s about being creative and really getting to know your community. In my family, I’ve been lucky in that we’ve always talked about death openly. I have ongoing conversations now with my father. He’s about to turn eighty-three, and I really value the kinds of discussions and ruminations we have.

It’s wonderful. We’ve started kind of reflecting theologically, talking about, wondering together, what happens after we die. To be able to have that in a father-daughter kind of way. I’m well aware of what a precious opportunity it is to hear his thoughts. As he comes into the “lean and slippered pantaloon” time of his life, as he might say—some of his last chapters— I feel really blessed that he’s willing to discuss it openly.

D: How do you open that discussion for the general public?

M: I think it takes courage and a conscious decision to ask a question of someone in a moment when you feel there’s an opportunity. Someone speaking about her or his health, some decline, or illness, grief, and you ask, “How would you like things to be?” And perhaps even being a bit persistent if you get an initial brush-off, which often happens, but trying again, and saying, “ Really, I would like to know.”

I also think reaching children is important. I think that in our death-denying culture, children are really shielded from all things involved with death. Things happen at the funeral parlor, no longer at home, and we try to protect children in all kinds of ways. But if you don’t allow children who want to be involved in a loved one’s illness or death, I think you’re doing them a disservice. You’re keeping them from something that is integral to life for all of us. The earlier you can start to have those experiences and wonder about them and ask the questions, the more skills you will have as you age to meet them openly.

D: Have you decided what you want for yourself at the end?

M: I have no idea. I do know that I would like to have the right and the option to choose. I understand that even just knowing that the option is available can bring a lot of comfort to people. I haven’t faced a terminal illness that might cause me great physical pain or suffering, or mental or spiritual suffering. There’s one area that gives me pause, which is when folks choose medical aid in dying because they’re used to being in control in their lives. They might not have physical or mental or spiritual suffering, but they want to have personal agency. I think they entirely have the right to do that. But I also believe we’re in a culture that distorts the degree to which we think we’re in control. So on a soul level, on a much deeper level, I wonder, Are we messing with something there? How is it that we’re making such a profound decision from a place of a distorted need for control? And then I think, Well, what do I know about their journey and what they need? Maybe this is the one time they’ve ever made a strong, solid decision for themselves, and who am I to say what it is they need to learn?

D: But isn’t pain, intractable pain and suffering, and the inability to care for oneself, a sufficient reason to respect someone’s decision in terms of his or her final say?

M: Absolutely. I think clinicians have more trouble when they can’t observe visible intractable pain, when they can’t see physical or emotional suffering. It’s harder for clinicians to get their heads and hearts around that. Why is someone making this choice? And so I do a lot of counseling with staff about that, exploring how to meet the needs of the person when we don’t see them suffering, at least not on the surface. And we have to remind ourselves, clinicians need to express those feelings and concerns, so that when they’re dealing with patients directly, they can be respectful and meet them on their own terms.

Complete Article HERE!

Dates With Death

When My Time Comes

Diane Rehm poses for a portrait at her home in January. After more than three decades and thousands of programs, she’s stepping away from the broadcast microphone.

By Amy Kepferle

“My mother begged to die,” Diane Rehm writes in the preface of her new book, When My Time Comes: Conversations about Whether Those Who Are Dying Should Have the Right to Determine When Life Should End.

“There was no hope of recovery,” she continues. “There was nothing more they could do to ease her pain or to keep her comfortable. She died suffering.”

Rehm, a beloved National Public Radio talk show host and bestselling author, wondered why she’d had to watch her mother endure the horrific effects of non-alcohol-related cirrhosis for so long, and why she didn’t have the right to choose when she’d had enough.

The subject again became personal in 2014 when her husband of 55 years, John Rehm, decided to end his life when the side effects of Parkinson’s disease became overwhelming. He couldn’t use his hands, could no longer feed himself or use the bathroom on his own, and slept for most of the day.

“Because John could not receive medical aid in dying, he had to starve himself and go without medication for 10 days, until he died,” she relates during a chapter focusing on an interview with palliative care physician, internist and geriatrician Christina Puchalski. “I as his wife could do nothing but watch him suffer.”

Puchalski’s take on Rehm’s story is an interesting one. Although she has plenty of compassion for those who are facing their final journey, she has concern that in states where assisted suicide is legal—like Washington, Oregon, Maine, Vermont, California, New Jersey, and Colorado—people might be too quick to seek medical aid to quicken their deaths. She believes palliative care and hospice care can help with pain and symptom management, and can also be done with dignity.

“Are we giving a message that when you get to that point, there’s not a lot of opportunity for meaning and purpose and joy?” Puchalski asks.

At 83 years old, Rehm is a clear proponent of the right-to-die movement. But in When My Time Comes, she uses her interviewing prowess to explore the topic in ways that go beyond a simple “yes” or “no.” She questions terminal cancer patients—one of whom moved to Oregon so she’d be able to end her life on her own terms—and widowed spouses, doctors, death educators, reverends and Roman Catholic priests, constitutional law professors, attorneys and politicians for their opinions.

It’s heady reading, especially when hearing from those who know they’re running out of time. But it’s also a reminder that life is fleeting, and that it’s better to let your family and loved ones know what you want before its final chapter.

At the end of the book, Rehm even talks to her grandson, asking him to record their conversation on his iPhone for posterity. She then tells him that if she’s terminally ill and there is no reasonable expectation of her recovery from mental or physical disability, to let her die and not be kept alive by artificial means and heroic measures.

During “A Conversation with Diane Rehm” Tues., Feb. 11 at Sehome High School, the retired radio personality will be in conversation with local author Phyllis Shacter, who—like Rehm—watched her spouse choose to die via Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED) rather than live into the late stages of Alzheimer’s. The discussion is sure to be a fascinating one, and may help give attendees a clearer look at the bigger picture.

Complete Article HERE!

How to love dying people.

It can be heartbreaking to hear that a loved one facing death has decided to give up the ‘fight’. Here’s how to love them through it.

By

It’s mid-January. The post-holiday glow has most definitely worn off and I’m now leaning on my fave comfort food to help get me through winter. Yep, am here nibbling on some chocolate almonds while writing this to you because I’m about to dive into a touchy topic.

Let’s begin by saying…

Death is deeply ordinary. 100% inevitable. And as natural and necessary as being born.

As a society, we treat death like the enemy (instead of the goddess of wisdom that she is). We fight ‘til the bitter end, this “battle” that we won’t ever win. This battle against death (and the obsession with youth it creates) is seen everywhere in our science and culture.

Which means it can be heartbreaking to hear that a loved one facing death has decided to give up that fight. To accept what’s coming. To make peace with a battle they know they aren’t going to win. To refuse any more treatments. And sometimes, even to choose a medically assisted death.

M.A.I.D. stands for Medical Assistance in Dying and it’s been legal in Canada since June 17, 2016.

First, a few stats to set the scene. The total number of medically assisted deaths in Canada between December 2015 and October 2018 was 6,479 or roughly 1% of the estimated total deaths in Canada during that time.

It’s split pretty evenly between men and women. But those of us in urban centres are more likely to seek out these services.

There are a number of guidelines in place to make sure that MAID isn’t abused. You have to be “eligible” and of sound mind. Three doctors must all independently agree that you qualify. Currently, there’s a minimum 10-day waiting period to make sure this is really what you want. And you can change your mind – right up to the last second – if you want to.

But it’s still controversial.

MAID bumps up against our morals and ethics and religious beliefs. It asks us to think about how we want to live and more importantly how we want to die (if you even believe that you have the right to choose).

It can be agonizing to hear that a loved one is ready to die. Especially if we aren’t ready to let them go.

There’s a fantastic episode of Grace and Frankie (season 6 is out now!) called “The Party” where their friend has decided not to fight the cancer that’s returned. We watch Grace and Frankie navigate their friend’s request to throw an epic ‘exit’ party and help her die. The show deals with this subject with such compassion (and of course, their signature sense of humour) it’s definitelyworth watching.

So let’s talk this through, shall we?

HOW DO YOU SUPPORT A LOVED ONE WHO HAS CHOSEN MAID?

Acknowledge that this is NOT ABOUT YOU

Which is hard because their death most definitely impacts you. And your ego, once it’s recovered from its shock, will start wringing its hands and wondering what your life will look like without this loved one. It’ll be afraid of losing the person you were when you were with them. And your ego will most definitely not want things to change, or the pain that comes with change. It’ll want to avoid this at all costs. Even if it means asking your cherished one to extend their life, to keep fighting, just a little longer so you can avoid the pain and grief their death will bring.

Here’s what I want you to remember: it’s not about you (no matter how much it feels like it is). This is THEIR journey. Trust that they know what they need. And, deep down your soul knows it’s going to be okay. It’s going to hurt, yes, but it’s going to be okay. So listen to your soul.

Get help

For you. Find support for yourself so that you can show up for your loved one who has chosen MAID. Maybe this looks like talking to a trusted friend, therapist, or coach.

Establish rituals that will help YOU during the transition. What do you need? Maybe you can schedule some time off. Or, one of my personal favourites is hitting the yoga mat. Allowing movement and breath to begin to allow those emotions to move through me. Maybe you can light a candle for your loved one.  Pray. Journal. Meditate. Walk. Do some kick-boxing. Take a bath. Let your intuition guide you. (more ideas for honouring your griefhere)

Empathize

Be a heart with ears for your friend or family member choosing medically assisted death. We can’t ever truly know what it’s like to walk someone else’s path. But we can listen with open hearts. Connect with compassion. And if the moment calls for it? Grieve together (more ideas on how to show up for someone who’s grievinghere).

Plan

If planning is your forte help them with plans for their funeral. Or a living funeral. Or a celebration of life service. Whatever they want. A big, loud, joyful party or intimate, sacred and peaceful. There’s no wrong way to do this.

The rituals and ceremonies we create around the ending of life aren’t just a reflection of our culture or beliefs. These rituals allow us to begin processing all the complex emotions that accompany grief. They help us to take meaningful action. To gather in community. Because action is necessary to heal from loss and helping plan their ‘exit’ party can be a beautiful offering.

Shift your perspective

This is gonna fall under the category of “easier said than done” advice. But what if you saw this time together (however much is left) as a gift?

When death is unexpected one of the things grievers want more than anything…is more time. Time to say I love you. Time to just be with the person.  Even just one more day with their loved one. You’ve got that. Cherish it.

Honesty

Take time to ask the questions you have to. Resolve any conflicts. Ease any discomfort between you. Above all, have honest conversations because we certainly don’t have time for bullshit in our last days on earth. And if you can’t quite say it out loud – try writing it in a letter.

When we implore our loved ones not to give up, to keep fighting, we rob them of the opportunity to go peacefully on their terms. We take away the deep KNOWING they have about their approaching death and ask them to doubt themselves. We give false hope.

We’d never ask our family member or friend to live their life according to our terms.  We can’t ask them to die on our terms.

If we loved them in life, even when life got messy (and really, when is it not messy?!) then we need to love them enough to make dying okay too.

Complete Article HERE!

‘It was kindness and it was a mercy’:

The doctor helping people to die

Oncologist Cameron McLaren

By Melissa Cunningham

It was just after 2pm on October 31 when oncologist Cameron McLaren arrived at Phil Ferrarotto’s house on the outskirts of Melbourne to help him die.

Dr McLaren had never administered a fatal drug to a terminally ill patient before. He was struck by the magnitude of what he was about to do.

“I had no idea if I was going to be OK with it even up to the point where I put the needle to his arm,” Dr McLaren said. “But there was no question that this was the right thing to do for Phil. It was what he wanted. It was kindness and it was a mercy.”

Phil hadn’t eaten for days. No longer able to digest his medication, the 70-year-old was hooked up to an intravenous morphine drip and sustained by spoonfuls of cola-flavoured ice.

He lay in bed with his daughter Katie and wife Dorrie curled up on either side of him. They cuddled his frail body and watched his chest rise and fall with each painful breath.

His son Glen and son-in-law Ryan came into the room with three glasses of aged Glenfiddich whisky; one for each of them and one for Phil.

They toasted Phil as Dr McLaren gently swabbed the father-of-two’s arm with medicinal alcohol.

Phil Ferrarotto

Dr McLaren found a vein and inserted a cannula. He used the thin tube to inject a sedative medication, before administering an anaesthetic and a muscle relaxant.

Phil began to drift off within minutes of the drugs flowing into his bloodstream. The circle of his family closed in around him. They held his hands and told him how much he was loved. “Be happy,” Phil said, before he took two final, deep breaths.

Dr McLaren has helped two dozen terminally ill Victorians apply for permits to end their lives since the state’s voluntary assisted dying laws came into effect on June 19. Eleven of them have since died using the legislation.

All the patients Dr McLaren has assessed so far were in intolerable pain and often bedridden.

“The number one reason people are doing this tends to be more the existential suffering,” Dr McLaren says. “It is the loss of joy, the fear of losing dignity and the fear of losing autonomy and of being a burden to family.”

Cancer-stricken patients surrender their bodies to years of treatment they know will cause them pain and discomfort, Dr McLaren said. He wants to give people control at the end of their life.

“It is one last decision about their body which is entirely theirs,” he said. “This is something we do for animals and when they get too old and they are suffering greatly. We put them out of their misery and we call it humane. Why shouldn’t we afford humans the same humanity?”

When Dr McLaren first met Phil he was sitting in an armchair in his living room hooked up to an oxygen concentrator. The cancer had spread from his bladder to his lungs and had riddled his bones. Then it invaded his liver, causing his belly to swell and fill with fluid. Opioids prescribed to Phil did little to dull his pain. Each breath was agony.

This kind, strong-willed, clever, retired general manager, who had battled four different kinds of cancers over the past 18 years, was frank and direct.

He told Dr McLaren he wanted to end his own life.

Dr McLaren carefully assessed Phil. He ticked off all the strict criteria; over the age of 18, of sound mind, an Australian citizen with less than six months to live. He referred Phil on to a second doctor who also deemed Phil eligible for the scheme.

Before his application was approved an email from Phil arrived in Dr McLaren’s inbox: “This gives me no pleasure in begging you to end my life, but I have no one else to turn to. I’m struggling with every breath I take and I can’t do it anymore.”

A permit for a doctor-administered death was approved the same day by the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board with Dr McLaren agreeing to administer the fatal dose.

For days after Phil died, Dr McLaren was waiting for the “hammer’s fall”.

“I was really concerned about the fallout for me, personally and emotionally,” he said. “I was concerned about being recognised as ‘that’ doctor and the impact it might have on my family and my work.

“I didn’t question what I did, because in Phil’s case, he was in the last days of his life and he was going to die within 48 to 72 hours. I was able to provide him a death that in his mind was dignified. It didn’t cost him anything. It cost him his suffering.”

The fallout never came.

“It was a lonely experience because there’s no literature review you can read on it,” he said. “It still does feel lonely because there’s not a lot of us doing it.”

The night Phil died, Dr McLaren picked up his two year-old daughter when he got home and held her in his arms. His love for his child overwhelmed him and he pressed his face against hers.

“As I was holding her I thought of Phil being surrounded by his family as he took his final breath,” he said.

“Nothing that we could have done would have avoided his death, but we were able to make sure Phil  died at home in the arms of the people who loved him most. I thought, yeah, that would be a nice way to go.”

Before he died, Phil wrote a letter to Dr McLaren thanking him for what he was doing:

Complete Article HERE!

The struggle to create a new craft of dying

—what is medicine’s role?

By Richard Smith

“Lyn Lofland’s The Craft of Dying (1978) is one of the most important books on post WWII death and dying practices that almost no one has read,” writes John Troyer, director of the Centre for Death and Society at Bath University. He thinks that everybody interested in death and dying should read the book. I agree. Potentially that means that every human being should read the book—because who cannot be interested in death, arguably the most important thing about us. Plus The Craft of Dying is short, easily read, full of compelling stories, and constructs a clear argument.

“Death can neither be “believed” nor “magicked” nor “scienced” away,” writes Lofland in her first line. But we can’t stop ourselves from thinking about it: “Everywhere and always humans think about it and develop beliefs regarding it and produce emotions toward it and do things relative to it. What they think, believe, feel, and do is, of course, variant. But that they think, believe, feel, and do is a universal.”

Every culture has developed beliefs and customs around death, but human death, argues Lofland, has changed dramatically in the past 60 years. Until that time people died mostly of infectious disease and injuries. The period of dying was short, and it was clear when people were dead. Medicine had little to offer. Now people die mostly of chronic disease, and the length of dying is long. Death is not easily defined, and doctors have much to offer, including long term ventilation, heroic operations, and drugs, some of them extremely expensive.

“In the past few decades, medical science has rendered obsolete centuries of experience, tradition, and language about our mortality, and created a new difficulty for mankind: how to die,” writes Atul Gawande in Being Mortal, published in 2014. Lofland wrote something similar in 1978: “There exists currently no widely accepted, fully articulated, well-integrated dogma that gives ‘being dying’ its meaning or its place in the larger scheme of things.”

A cultural vacuum has been created, and inevitably attempts are underway to fill the vacuum. We have entered a new age of what Lofland calls “thanatalogical chic”: in the contemporary cliché “death is the new black.” We have to decide how to die, where to die, how to dispose of the dead, how to mourn, and, most difficult of all, what death means.

One response has been what Lofland teasingly calls “the Happy Death Movement.” It is an inchoate social movement with many practitioners, strands, and different views, but Lofland sees patterns that were emerging in the 70s and are still emerging.

Firstly, a social movement needs an enemy, and the enemy of the Happy Death Movement is death denial, death as the great taboo. Lofland defines the enemy: ”America is a death-denying society…death is a taboo topic…death makes Americans uncomfortable so they run from …death is hidden in America because Americans deny it….” For America, Lofland’s home, we could substitute any high-income country—or even any high-income group within a poor country. “The consequences of all this denial and repression are,” continues Lofland, “asserted to be quite terrible: exorbitant funeral costs and barbaric funeral practices, inhumane handling of dying in hospitals, ostracism of the dying from the living, inauthentic communication with the fatally ill, an unrealistic, mechanical, non-organic view of life, and so forth.”

Lofland is dismissive of the idea of death as taboo: “One might consider it somewhat odd that the statement that death is a taboo topic in America should continue to be asserted in the face of nearly a decade of non-stop talking on the subject.” Talk, writing, and storytelling about death has continued unabated ever since and probably increased. It is probably fair to say, however, that there is much less familiarity with the experience of death: dying people, the signs of death being close, dead bodies, and the disposal of the dead.

A social movement also needs something to shoot for, and for the Happy Death Movement it’s some form of idealised premodern death, with the dying person at home surrounded by loved ones and calmly bidding them goodbye. Lofland is dismissive of this as well, including in her book stories of the dying being buried alive (in Samoa) and ignored while families party (in Tahiti).

As you would expect, the attempts to create new behaviours and beliefs around death reflect broader cultural trends, which Lofland identifies in the United States as “ ‘humanistic-counterculture’ denouncement of modern society in general, which denouncement emphasizes the Western world’s dehumanizing, unemotional, technologically dominated, inauthentic, and constricted character.” That cultural trend is alive and flourishing in most Western societies. “Why not,” asks Lofland, “with Carl Jung, speak of “the achievement of death” and view dying as the final creative task of our lives?” A director of spiritual services (what used to be called a chaplain) I met recently in a hospice told me of the tremendous pressure on people to have a “good death.” This immediately evoked for me the pressure on mothers to have a “good” or “natural” birth.

Emphasising that the Happy Death Movement is still forming, Lofland identifies how the movement will make dying better. Firstly, it’s essential to talk about it. For example, the Order of the Good Death, an organisation founded by a Californian mortician, has eight tenets—and three of them concern talking about death

“2. I believe that the culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation, and scholarship.

3. I believe that talking about and engaging with my inevitable death is not morbid, but displays a natural curiosity about the human condition.

7. I believe that my family and friends should know my end-of-life wishes, and that I should have the necessary paperwork to back-up those wishes.”

Secondly, death must be rearranged, moved from hospital to hospices and the home. Death in hospital is failure. Thirdly, we must legislate death with advanced decisions and assisted dying.

Lofland also identifies emerging components of the new craft of dying. Expressivity is essential, but it’s also important to not just embrace death, but to celebrate it. (I’ve done this with my talk, delivered once at the Edinburgh Festival, “Death: the upside.”) Finally—and for me surprisingly—the Happy Death Movement wants us to believe in immortality. Lofland describes how Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who might be called the doyen of the Happy Death Movement and whose hugely influential book On Death and Dying proposed in 1969 the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), came to believe in immortality. The pursuit of immortality, long a dream and arguably the unique selling point of Christianity, now attracts serious people and serious money. 

The other two components of the emerging craft of dying are expressivity and positivity. Talk and write about your dying and coming death and celebrate your coming death and the death of those you love. New rituals will be needed, and some like “living funerals” are beginning.

Lofland is a sociologist, an academic, an observer, but you feel that she is not in fully sympathy with the Happy Death Movement. Indeed, she conjures the idea of a Dismal Death Movement to counter the Happy Death Movement: “If expressivity comes to be widely accepted as the only way to achieve a decent death, the emotionally reticent will find themselves under great pressure to ‘share.’ If the idea that death and dying provide new opportunities for self-improvement becomes common currency, the chronic under achiever will find himself facing one more opportunity for failure. Not ‘getting off’ on death may become as déclassé as sexual unresponsiveness. Then perhaps, a ‘dismal death’ movement will rise to wipe the smile from the face of death and restore the ‘Grim Reaper’ to his historic place of honor.”

There is a little about medicine and healthcare in Lofland’s book, and nor does the Order of the Good Death have much to say on the subject. But I wonder how much medicine and healthcare—gigantic, well-funded enterprises—might come to fill the need for new ways to die. Ivan Illich certainly argued that that was the case in his book Limits to Medicine, published at about the same time as Lofland’s book. Death “is now that point at which the human organism refuses any further input of treatment…Health, or the autonomous power to cope, has been expropriated down to the last breath. Technical death has won its victory over dying. Mechanical death has conquered and destroyed all other deaths.” Indeed, it is by taking on death that “health care has become a monolithic world religion.”

All those who read Lofland’s book agree that it could have been published in 2018 not 1978 and be equally relevant. The struggle to create a new craft of dying is far from over, and those of us in medicine and heath care have a particular responsibility to think and act on medicine’s role in the struggle. Almost certainly its role should be smaller.

Complete Article HERE!

Struggling with care — When is ‘end of life’ too much?

By GARRY OVERBEY

A 94-year-old Venice man allegedly shot and killed his wife, who suffered from dementia. He then tried to turn the gun on himself, authorities said, but the weapon jammed. He told the 911 dispatcher, “I’ve had a death in the family.”

Cheryl Green, 73, lost her husband of 54 years in July after a long struggle with Lewy body dementia.

When Green read about the arrest of Wayne S. Juhlin — currently the oldest inmate at the Sarasota County Jail, charged with first-degree murder — she felt sympathy for him — and guilt, for her husband.

“Unless you’ve walked in his shoes, you don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “He (Juhlin) probably saw something in her condition, that killing her was a mercy.”

The would-be murder/suicide made her think of her husband, and the horror of his final days in a Lake Placid nursing home.

“If I had the means and the courage, I would have ended his misery,” Green said.

She contacted the Sun following Juhlin’s arrest, objecting to the narrative put forth by authorities that help for caregivers is readily available but ignored.

“It sounded as if there were many options open to the man and he just didn’t know they were there. The options are few for individuals who don’t have a lot of money,” she said.

Had her husband been accepted into a long-term care facility, she said, she would have depleted their savings in two months.

A former Washington state employee with a degree in social work, Green said she’s not naive about Medicare and Medicaid and how easily people can slip through the cracks of a bureaucracy. But she was stunned to find herself marginalized in Florida’s elder care system.

“If you’re indigent and you need long-term care, you can get Medicaid,” she said. “But if you’re in the middle — if you’re not wealthy enough to afford $3,000 to $5,000 a month (for nursing care) — you’re stuck.”

Through the looking glass

Cheryl and Drew Green both grew up in upstate New York. High school sweethearts, they met while working in the same grocery store and married while still in their teens.

They moved to Seattle, where she got her master’s degree in special vocational education, he opened his own business as an electrician, and they raised their two children. She worked for the state, running and developing programs for people with developmental disabilities and mental health issues.

Drew was extremely handy and could do almost anything that needed doing around the house.

“He was an excellent craftsman,” Green said. “People liked him because he was so good at what he did.”

Around his mid-50s, things changed.

“He started making mistakes at work,” Green said. “He would say, ‘I don’t know why, but I can’t figure things out anymore.’”

The man who had once built her a backyard gazebo was now forgetting things and had trouble with basic tasks.

Doctors told them he had dementia, but it would be years before one finally diagnosed him with a specific type: Lewy body dementia. LBD is a progressive form of the disease, with visual hallucinations, that affects thinking, behavior, mood and movement. Life expectancy is usually five to seven years.

Drew couldn’t work and his business folded. Green quit her job to care for him. Seattle was too expensive under those circumstances, so she looked for a cheaper place to live. In 2010, they moved to Burnt Store Lakes in Punta Gorda.

They lived off their savings and took early Social Security benefits. As his health declined, they were relieved when he qualified for Medicare.

“He was living in an alternate reality,” she said. “He had delusions and thought he had to act on them.”

For instance, Drew once thought he could go upstairs by walking through a mirror.

His condition steadily worsened over the years.

“He still had a sense of humor. He stayed kind,” she said. “But he became really delusional and started lashing out at people.”

Drew would sometimes stay up and wander the house for three or four days at a time. He would walk into sliding glass doors.

“I was under the delusion that I could take care of him,” she said.

Green, who had been diagnosed with lupus in the last year after struggling with fatigue her whole life, was exhausted and finally reached out for help. Earlier this year, she contacted Charlotte County’s Senior Services. They agreed to send someone to help for four hours twice a week to provide respite care — giving the caregiver a break for a few hours and helping with household chores. But when the worker arrived, Green was shocked to learn she didn’t speak English. Green was handed a cell phone and told to talk to a supervisor, who would translate Green’s instructions. A second worker spoke some English, but she mainly sat and did puzzles while Drew watched.

The county’s Senior Services cannot discuss details of a specific case because of privacy, but there are limitations on help that can be provided.

“Vendors do have difficulties providing services in more remote areas of the county, weekends and evening service, and we have no vendor willing to handle heavier chore tasks,” said Deedra Dowling, manager of Charlotte County Human Services/Senior Division. “We depend on the subcontracted vendors to provide the staff for service provision and we do monitor for contract compliance. … We have had clients who have tried every worker, every agency, and finally left with no service provision as they could not be satisfied. While this scenario is extremely rare, it has happened a few times over the years. Overnight services have always been extremely difficult to staff for a variety of reasons.”

Dowling added she wishes there were “many more resources.”

Green said she needed someone to come three nights a week, and someone on call at night.

She started sleeping on the couch so she could keep an eye on the doors to make sure he didn’t leave the house.

“I didn’t understand what I needed. I thought, I’ll keep him until I can’t keep him home anymore.”

Resources were few. Her children, who live out of state, helped when they could. Neighbors helped, but Drew’s aggression scared them.

“It’s difficult to ask anybody to help restrain someone in the middle of the night.”

Reality check

In May, Drew escaped through a window. Green searched the neighborhood and found him wandering the streets in his boxer shorts. The next night, he got out again. This time, she found him unconscious in the bushes near the alligator-infested lake behind their home.

She brought him to Fawcett Memorial Hospital May 19. He was placed under observation, but Medicare wouldn’t pay until he was actually admitted, which happened once he began having heart issues and his blood pressure shot up.

His decline accelerated. “He started punching people,” Green said. “He was scary aggressive.”

At Fawcett, she credits one doctor with giving her a reality check on what she knew were her husband’s last days: “He said, ‘This isn’t a fairy tale. Grandpa isn’t going to come home and be surrounded by loving grandchildren.’ He said he’ll be ranting and raving and lashing out at people.”

One night in the hospital, to keep him from jumping out of his bed, Green wrapped him in a bed sheet and held it tight.

He was beyond being helped at home. A doctor said he would need three people caring for him around the clock.

“Obviously, he was lots and lots of work wherever he went.”

She tried to get him into Tidewell Hospice, but was turned down. She said she wasn’t given a reason, only that he “didn’t meet the criteria.”

“I knew he was dying,” she said.

A hospital social worker started looking for a nursing home, but no one local would take him, Green said, “because he was aggressive and had Lewy body, and they didn’t have the experience or the staff to deal with him.”

Only two facilities in the state would take him. Online reviews for the one in Clearwater were so bad it was unthinkable, so she went with a facility in Lake Placid.

“I hoped maybe he could have some rehabilitation, maybe learn to feed himself again.”

Fawcett insisted he be transported to Lake Placid by ambulance, a $3,000 trip the hospital agreed to cover.

‘The old person’s friend’

The Lake Placid facility turned out to be worse than she could have imagined.

“The place was dirty, the staff overworked and the administration was less than helpful.”

Drew’s conditioned worsened.

“He could not feed himself or use the bathroom,” Green said. “He cried when he saw me. He was wet, dirty and being fed food he would never eat in his former life. He was frightened and tried to keep the staff away from him. He was usually put in an old wheelchair missing half its parts and was slumped to the side.”

After 20 days, the facility notified her he would be taken off Medicare because he wasn’t making progress. They would let him continue to stay there for $260 a day. Had Green agreed, “I would go through any money I had left very quickly,” to keep him in a place where “I would not keep my dog.”

“I wanted someplace stable where I could visit him, but that was not available to me at all,” she said. “I looked every day for a new place. He was terrified and I was miserable.”

Suffering from infections, pneumonia and near-continuous seizures, Drew was taken to the emergency room. From there, he was finally accepted to a hospice in Clermont, near Orlando. Green noted someone telling her pneumonia was called “the old person’s friend” — “because it takes them away when they have other diseases.”

“It was a wonderful place to be,” she said of hospice.

She was able to be with him that night. The next morning, July 16, a nurse’s aide told her he had died.

A better ending

Three months later, Drew’s last days haunt her.

“What an awful way to die — thinking you’re not safe, that you’re being attacked all the time, no help from anybody, and the nursing home didn’t want him anymore.

“To have him in that place, to see him crying and scared,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ll never get over the guilt.”

She adds: “I shouldn’t have lived in a delusional state that I could take care of him.”

If he could have gotten into a hospice earlier, she said, “his life would have had a better ending.”

Her thoughts roll back to Juhlin and others like him who took action to end a loved one’s suffering.

“I don’t think I could kill anybody, especially someone I loved. But I wish I could have ended his misery.

“It’s horrible when the person you love most, you think they’d be better off dying. My last three dogs got so sick I had to put them down. I loved those dogs. I didn’t murder them.

“I wouldn’t shoot anybody, but I might have given him too many sleeping pills.”

Green said she visits online forums for people with loved ones suffering from Lewy body dementia. But she is reluctant to participate.

“I don’t want to tell my story because I don’t want them to know how bad it’s going to be.”

She wants to be an advocate for raising awareness about the condition, and offers advice for those in similar situations.

“Don’t think that anyone is going to automatically be there to help you.”

She recommends getting an elder care attorney once it becomes clear a loved one is going to require long-term care.

“Sit down and talk about Medicare and Medicaid options, and whether you can keep your house after your loved one passes away.”

Green still owes a little money on their house, and she’s confident she can keep up with home repairs without having to take out a loan.

Nine years of Medicare “doughnut hole” expenses for Drew’s medications, as well as retiring early, ate up their savings.

Still, she’s able to get by on Social Security and her pension from Washington. Plus, she says with a little chuckle, Social Security gives her a widow’s pension — $37.91 a month.

She’s adjusting to life without her husband.

“I had a man who could do everything,” she said. “Now I’m figuring out how to do everything.”

Complete Article HERE!

Why people choose medically assisted death revealed through conversations with nurses

Without an understanding of the complexities of medically assisted dying, it’s difficult for patients and families to make good decisions.

By and

Since Canada legalized Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) in 2016, as of Oct. 31, 2018, more than 6,700 Canadians have chosen medications to end their life.

Canadians who meet eligibility requirements can opt to self-administer or have a clinician administer these medications; the vast majority of people choosing MAiD have had their medications delivered by physicians or nurse practitioners. Canada is the first country to permit nurse practitioners to assess for medically assisted dying eligibility and to provide it.

The precise meaning and implications of MAiD — in particular, who can request medical assistance in dying in Canada — is still evolving through court rulings. Québec’s Supreme Court recently struck down the reasonably foreseeable death requirement under the Criminal Code and the end-of-life requirement under Québec’s Act Respecting End-of-Life Care.

Without the requirement of a reasonably foreseeable death, it is likely that other legal challenges will occur to extend assisted dying to other groups such as those whose sole underlying condition is severe mental illness.

Involvement of nurses

Our research has explored how the nursing profession is regulating the new area of responsibility towards medically assisted dying and how nursing ethics might guide policy and practical implications of nurses’ experiences.

Current legislation guards the right of health-care providers to conscientiously object to participation in MAiD. Nurses who do conscientiously object have a professional obligation to inform their employers of that objection, to report requests for MAiD, and to not abandon their clients. They also must ensure that their choices are based on “informed, reflective choice and are not based on prejudice, fear or convenience.”

The nurses who surround the process of medically assisted dying are an important source of insight into the complex and nuanced conversations our society needs to have about what it is like to choose, or be involved with, this new option at the end of life, and to be involved in supporting patients and their families toward death with compassion.

Researchers are following how the nursing profession is regulating nurses’ involvement in medically assisted dying.

Impoverished stereotypes

Our most recent research involved interviews with 59 nurse practitioners or registered nurses across Canada who accompanied patients and families along the journey of medically assisted dying or who had chosen to conscientiously object. Nurses worked across the spectrum of care in acute, residential and home-care settings.

During our research, and as we followed media stories, we became aware that as with other morally contentious issues, involvement in MAiD has often been discussed in one-dimensional ways: We noted stereotypes of health-care providers and patients who heroically conquer suffering, death and the system by taking control of what might otherwise have been a difficult and prolonged dying. We also observed caricatures of oppositional or religious right-wing persons and institutions who stand in the way of compassion and dignity.

Neither of these perspectives do justice to the complexities of MAiD as it is enacted. Without an understanding of those complexities, it is difficult for patients and families to make good decisions.

Nurses accounts of MAiD

Nurses told us that medically assisted dying is about so much more than the act itself. Medically assisted dying is a conversational journey with patients that lasts weeks or even months.

These discussions patients have over time with skilled and compassionate health-care professionals help to determine whether this is what they really want, or whether there are other options that might relieve their suffering.

Conversations between patients and their families are essential to negotiating a common understanding and moving forward together.

Indeed, evidence has suggested that these conversations, when experienced as meaningful by patients, may help to alleviate the suffering that leads to the request for a medically assisted death. This is particularly true if the suffering has arisen from the sense of isolation.

If and when patients decide to proceed with MAiD, then conversations are required to ensure that all of the organizational details (what, where, when, how) are patient-centred choices and that those who are involved know the part they are to play. After the act of medically assisted dying, it is compassionate conversations that support families in navigating an uncharted bereavement process.

So yes, medically assisted dying is about supporting autonomy, but it is also about understanding that autonomy exists within, and is shaped by, our constellation of relationships. We need to be talking more about the essential nature of what it means to have a good death.

Complex reasons to choose death

MAiD is often spoken of as the definitive intervention that ensures control over the alleviation of suffering. But, we have learned that MAiD can also be chosen as the antidote to a system that fails in compassion or equitable palliative care access.

It may seem the perfect solution for rural and remote patients who want a home death but are unable to find sufficient palliative care in their context.

It may seem the best option for patients who do not want to enter what they perceive to be the dehumanizing environments of residential care.

We heard a story of one man who had overstayed the time allowed on a palliative care unit. His doctor was a conscientious objector to medically assisted dying so each time health professionals planned to transfer him to residential care, the man asked for a medically assisted death. In doing so his stay in palliative care was assured.

We need to ensure that inequitable access or lack of caregiving networks do not become the default reasons for requesting a medically assisted death.

We heard other stories of patients who were not willing to tax their caregivers any longer, particularly if those caregivers sent cues that they were exhausted.

So, while medically assisted dying does promise control over people’s suffering, it can also be used as a form of resistance to a challenging system or depleted support.

We need to plan ways to ensure that inequitable access or lack of caregiving networks do not become the default reasons for requesting a medically assisted death.

Deeply impactful

Nurses emphasized how important it is to have preparatory conversations repeatedly. Organizing an assisted death is labour-intensive for all involved; it requires thoughtful and detailed planning within the care system and among families and support networks.

Often the first time that patients and families hear a detailed explanation of the process is when the nurse or the physician first assesses eligibility. Nurses said it is not uncommon for patients to experience uncertainty, to vacillate in their decision around an assisted death, or to experience fear at the moment of death.

It is tough to talk about your uncertainty when so many have invested time and energy into planning your death. At the time of assisted death, nurses and physicians go to extraordinary lengths to ensure a “good death” by normalizing the process, fulfilling patient wishes and providing exemplary clinical care.

Despite all of this, the death is often deeply impactful because it is so different than the death we have known where people gradually fade away. Persons receiving medically assisted death are fully there one minute, and gone the next.

Within minutes they go from talking, to unconscious, to a grey pallour that signifies death, and this “greying” affects even seasoned health-care providers. The death can provoke an array of overwhelming emotions in health-care providers and families alike, both positive and negative.

With the changing landscape of medically assisted dying in Canada, the need for reflective conversations becomes ever more urgent. We need to better understand how medically assisted dying changes the nature of death to which we have become accustomed and how those changes impact all those involved.

Complete Article HERE!