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‘Let’s talk about death’ – tackling one of the last taboos


Jul 5, 2019 #health, #life

AN expert in palliative care is asking the community for help in tackling one of the last taboos – death.

Deputy head of care at St Teresa’s Hospice Elizabeth Price is seeking opinion on how to be more open about death, from health professionals, solicitors, financial organisations, funeral directors and members of the public.

Mrs Price was a Macmillan nurse for eight years and has been a qualified nurse for 25 years. She is now deputy head of care at St Teresa’s Hospice, which provides care for people in Darlington, South Durham and North Yorkshire.

She has been inspired to look at the issue after attending a palliative care symposium to mark Dying Matters Awareness Week, which aimed to raise awareness about being ready for death.

Dying Matters was set up by the National Council for Palliative Care, the umbrella charity for those involved in palliative care and part of Hospice UK.

She said: “One day death comes to us all yet sensitivity and politeness and perhaps fear have transformed death into passing on and dying into life-limiting illnesses.

“I’ve witnessed on a daily basis people’s reluctance to talk about the end of life, which is after all a natural process, just like being born.”

Research shows that more than a third of people say they rarely or never think of death and only 35 per cent of adults have made a will.

Less than a third of people have let anyone know their funeral wishes and just seven per cent have written down their hopes about the care they would want to receive if they couldn’t make decisions.

About a quarter of adults have asked their family about their end of life wishes and only a third have registered to be an organ donor.

Mrs Price said: “Not too long ago we would prepare for death; we would ‘get our affairs in order’, sort out funeral arrangements, whether that was a burial or cremation, leave our wills and last testaments and decide whether to donate our organs for transplant or bodies for research.

“Yet today it’s amazing how many people don’t tackle what they consider to be a conversation too difficult to have with their loved ones.

“In reality these conversations can really help patients and their families come to terms with life, death and the inevitable bereavement process before them.”

She said popular culture, TV and film drama, had led to a skewed view of dying, that it was a crisis, a medical process that occurred in hospitals amid intravenous drips and machines that beeped.

She said: “The body is an incredible thing and at the end of life begins to shut down. So patients may not feel hungry or thirsty or be able to eat or drink. We have so many tools to keep people alive but is their use always appropriate? That is a conversation worth having.

“I believe we need to reclaim dying, to end the culture of being too coy to talk about it when tangible, practical steps need to be taken to have a good death.”

Anyone wanting to share their views can contact Mrs Price atelizabethprice@darlingtonhospice.org.uk.

By French