B.C. College of Midwives and Pashta MaryMoon, 65, to litigate ‘death midwife’ title this week
In a sworn affidavit, Pashta MaryMoon says her passion for alternative holistic death care began when she was a seven-year-old girl watching a 1950s western movie.
She described watching a scene with a pioneer’s wife whose husband had died. The fictional woman, all alone, had no choice but to care for his body herself, prepare it for burial, inter it and then comfort their grieving children.
“Young as I was, and with the benefit of hindsight, this ‘hands-on’ approach struck me as making more sense than conventional funeral practices,” MaryMoon, now 65, wrote.
“I am a Death Midwife; Death Midwifery is my vocation and it is what I do.”
The problem with MaryMoon’s vocation, in the eyes of the B.C. College of Midwives, is its name.
The college, which is the legal body regulating and overseeing the practice of midwifery in B.C., has sent several cease and desist letters to MaryMoon since 2016 demanding she stop using the term “midwife” to describe her services.
Now, it is turning to B.C. Supreme Court to compel her to drop it in a two-day hearing this week.
Cites history back to ancient Egypt
According to the college of midwives, its birth-focused registrants provide a “continuity of care and support throughout the childbearing experience.”
Before birth, they provide physical exams and diagnostic tests; during birth they can conduct normal vaginal deliveries; and they also provide postpartum care after birth.
MaryMoon says death midwifery honours the philosophy and tradition of traditional midwives as someone who “attends to birth or death.”
In a document submitted to the court, her friend Mia Shinbrot outlined the services MaryMoon provides.
Before death, she helps the dying plan at-home funerals and work through their grief; during the death itself, she organizes death vigils; and after the person has died, she takes care of paperwork, helps with the funeral and provides grief support.
MaryMoon, in her affidavit, said the dual role of a midwife stretches back into ancient times and claims its roots go as far back as recorded history, as evidenced by ancient Egyptian gods like Isis or the Bird-Headed Snake Goddess, which she claims have aspects of both life and death in their natures.
College wants to avoid confusion
In an affidavit of her own, college of midwives registrar Louise Aerts argued it is important to keep the term midwife legally reserved for college-certified midwives to avoid confusing or misleading members of the public.
Aerts declined to comment further for this story, saying the matter is before the courts, but in her submission, she noted that other holistic death practitioners call themselves “death doulas” or end-of-life doulas.”
Douglas College even has an End-of-Life Doula certificate program.
But MaryMoon, in response to that, said the term “death midwife” is the only title that accurately encapsulates her services and approach. She believes there is no chance of confusing her work with that of a college-certified midwife.
“When people hear ‘death midwife’ or ‘death midwifery,’ they automatically assume a philosophy about it, in part, because they’re familiar with birth midwives,” MaryMoon said.
“There’s no other term in our culture right now that that the public recognizes.”
She believes that without the title, people facing death will not know that they can take a different approach to dying.
She will ask the B.C. Supreme Court for an exemption to restrictions on the midwife title on Nov. 29 and 30.
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