End-of-Life, Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

The Words that are used in/about End-of-Life

In speaking with a colleague today about death, dying and end-of-life issues, we ended up discussing the words used; particularly in western society. ‘Passing, has passed, with the angels, with their deceased loved ones’ are words or phrases typically used. The words/terms ‘died, has died’ are not used in general circles. She made a keen observation. Look at obituaries here in the western world and you will see how one’s death is described.

I received the most recent newsletter from Dying with Dignity, Voice for Choice, December 2013. A palliative care physician calls for a dialogue. Dr. James Downar, DWD member and Advisory Council for Physicians says, “…Palliative Care cannot address all forms of suffering and that medically assisted dying can be legalized without threatening the vulnerable. The medical community is divided on it and many of the most respected palliative care physicians in Canada have publicly opposed it. We need to address the concerns of our colleagues and the public and find an inoffensive way to advocate for its legalization.”

Bill 52 in Quebec may pave the wave for legislation in other provinces re: Assisted Suicide.

Dying with Dignity is an organization that I came across purely by chance when researching death and dying for an article I was writing in August of 2013. I liked what I read and the organization’s mission aligns with my personal beliefs. One who is diagnosed with a chronic health condition where deterioration either mentally or physically is already beginning, is a given, or when an individual is diagnosed with a life threatening illness-if there is legislation in place and ”safety measures” in place, than it should be up to the individual and not a healthcare professional, or judge to make a decision.

Think about it. What would you want if it was you, a friend, colleague or family member? Would you want to suffer? Would you want them to suffer? Would you want to witness their deterioration physically or mentally for a prolonged length of time without quality of life? If you are unsure, that is ok-this has you thinking. If your answer is you do not believe in assisted suicide or other similar legislation, I do not think you would be interested in this topic/field or reading this blog post.

I decided to become a member of Dying with Dignity and a Volunteer. I want to be involved in educating others of the choices available to them. I want to speak on this topic, be part of or facilitate a panel discussion that includes those for and those against. To me it is about awareness, education and discussion. Everyone is entitled to a respective opinion. I like the fact that the board of directors includes physicians. Advance Care Planning Kits are available for each province electronically (free for download) and in hard copy form (for a small fee).

As a social worker who has a Master of Social Work degree and works with seniors/older adults-compassion, empathy, advocacy and being with the client where they are at is important. Death is inevitable; as my colleague stated: “A physiological state.” And the words we use to describe death are important.

What are you thoughts?

By Victoria Brewster, MSW

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