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How Death Doulas Became the Next Big Thing

Monday , September 2 , 2019

How Death Doulas Became the Next Big Thing

When you hear the word “doula,” what do you picture?

Most people would say a doula is a woman who provides trained, non-medical care during pregnancy and labor.

But more generally, a doula is a person who provides emotional and physical support. It might be during pregnancy – or it might not. Doulas often coach families through other difficult transitions, including death and dying.

Here’s what you need to know about this intriguing concept and why it’s a useful option for many families:

What is a death doula?

According to Doulagivers:

“A Death Doula is a non-medical person trained to care for someone holistically (physically, emotionally and spiritually) at the end of life. Death Doulas are also known around the world as: end of life coaches, soul midwives, transition guides, death coaches, doula to the dying, end of life doulas, death midwives, and end of life guides.”

Death doulas support both the patient and their family during the times before, during, and after death.

Services offered can vary greatly depending on the practitioner, but typically include a holistic, non-medical approach to the natural process of dying. The underlying purpose is always the same: To bridge the gap between medical professionals who are trying to save lives and funeral directors, whose function doesn’t begin until after death has occurred.

The growing desire for a “home death”

For many millennia, people passed away at home. It wasn’t until the Civil War, and the rise of the funeral industry, that it became indecent to die in your own bed.

During that time, women, who had traditionally been the death caregivers in society, were pushed aside. The care of the dead and preparation for burial was commercialized and handed off to funeral directors. Eventually, even the process of dying itself was moved out of the home, as more and more people reached the end of life in hospitals or old-age homes.

Today, there is a growing movement to take death back.

Many families would like to reconnect with the traditional death practices of caring for their own. In many cultures, the ability to bathe, dress, and mourn a deceased loved one is considered a privilege. Likewise, people are becoming more interested in alternatives to cremation or burial and would like to consider more natural options.

Death midwives can help a family re-learn the process of caring for a dying loved one, as well as offering information on care and treatment, funeral options, and methods of disposal.

What does a death doula do?

The services a doula may provide can be broken down into three main areas of support: Presence, dignity, and legacy.

Presence: Death is the ultimate unknown. And, like most things unknown, people fear it. The last phase of life can be full of stress and anxiety as we face the inevitable end. A death midwife can provide companionship, often in the form of conversation or a simply offering a hand to hold. Having someone present with experience and training can bring a sense of comfort to both the dying individual and those around them.

Dignity: Many terminally ill people want just one thing: The right to die on their own terms. For some, that means the ability to pass peacefully at home, surrounded by family, not hooked up to machines or devices. A death doula can create a “vigil plan” – a document where the dying person expressed their wishes about their death. Whatever their vision of an “ideal” end looks like, the midwife can help create an environment which reflects those ideals.

Legacy: One of the scariest things about dying is the fear that you won’t be remembered. A death doula can help us share our stories so we can pass on wisdom, advice, and support even after we’ve passed. Through the creation of legacy projects, like biographies or photo collections, you can leave a unique gift for your loved ones that truly captures your essence – even after you’ve passed.

Family support

The illness and death of a loved one can be very difficult. Often, families don’t receive the care and support they need, despite the hardships they are facing. And for those who have never had a close loved one pass before, the process can cause a lot of anxiety. A doula can address family members’ concerns and answer any questions they have regarding the death process.

More importantly, the advice they give can empower families to support their loved ones as they die: Deanna Cochran, a hospice nurse and the founder of Quality of Life Care, says

“I want to get the message out that you can do this too. You can learn to take care of your own dying and dead.”

Final thoughts

Many experts agree that there will be a rising need for alternative care services as the baby boomer generation ages and nears the end of life. As interest in dying at home continues to grow, you can expect death doulas to become more prevalent.

Tell us: Would you consider hiring a death doula to aid your family work through the process of death?

Posted in: Aging

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What you need to know about the NJ Aid in Dying Bill

Monday , August 26 , 2019

What you need to know about the NJ Aid in Dying Bill

Earlier this year, the New Jersey legislature passed a death with dignity bill called the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act. Governor Phil Murphy signed the bill into law on April 12, 2019. It was supposed to take effect on August 1, 2019, but is now under a temporary restraining order.

What happened?

The problems it was meant to solve

The new law will allow terminally ill patients to request aid in dying in certain clearly defined situations.

Many states have similar regulations, sometimes called “physician-assisted dying” or “death with dignity.”. Aid-in-dying is currently legal in eight jurisdictions, including California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Maine’s assisted-death law will go into effect in 2020. One in five Americans currently live in jurisdictions where such an option is available.

The New Jersey Aid in Dying bill does not allow mercy killing, euthanasia, or assisted suicide. It is meant to give terminally ill patients a choice in how their life will end by allowing them to request life-ending medications.

Often, those who suffer from a terminal illness experience prolonged and immeasurable pain. Many patients, though they would still prefer to live, choose to die in a more gentle way when they know the end is imminent.

Sometimes, it’s not even about the pain and suffering. It’s simply a way to maintain a final bit of dignity and control over one’s own life. For supporters of the law, the ability to have control over the circumstances of their death is a matter of dignity and autonomy.

When Governor Murphy signed the bill in April, he said, “By signing this bill today, we are providing terminally ill patients and their families with the humanity, dignity, and respect that they so richly deserve at the most difficult times any of us will face.”

What are the objections?

From the get-go, the NJ Aid in Dying Act has faced fierce opposition.

Many critics warn that disabled, vulnerable, and elderly people may face pressure from outside parties or unscrupulous family members to unnecessarily end their lives.

Others, such as the Catholic Church, call it an “affront to human life.” The Diocese of Trenton said that a terminal diagnosis isn’t always accurate, and people may make the choice using false or incorrect information.

The Medical Society of New Jersey also opposed the bill, saying that it will put physicians at odds with their professional ethical requirements.

Other common arguments against death with dignity bills include:

· A patient’s suffering can be lessened through palliative care

· Assisted death demeans the value of human life

· Many religions believe that taking your own life is against God’s will

· Assisted death is a slippery slope and will lead to legalized murder

· Pressure from insurance companies may lead doctors to force patients to end their own lives

· The cost of care may lead people to choose death over unaffordable medical bills

How the writers of the bill attempted to safeguard against abuses or misuses of the law

All assisted-death laws, not only in New Jersey, take specific measures to safeguard against misuse of the law.

According to the NOLO Legal Encyclopedia, these are the exact requirements in New Jersey:

To request a prescription for life-ending medication in New Jersey, a patient must be:

· at least 18 years old

· a New Jersey resident

· mentally capable of making and communicating health care decisions, and

· diagnosed with a terminal disease that will result in death within six months.

A patient who meets the requirements above will be prescribed aid-in-dying medication only if:

· The patient makes two verbal requests to their doctor, at least 15 days apart.

· The patient gives a written request to the doctor, signed in front of two qualified, adult witnesses.

· The prescribing doctor and one other doctor confirm the patient’s diagnosis and prognosis.

· The prescribing doctor and one other doctor determine that the patient is capable of making medical decisions.

· The patient has a psychological examination, if either doctor feels the patient’s judgment is impaired.

· The prescribing doctor confirms that the patient is not being coerced or unduly influenced by others when making the request.

· The prescribing doctor informs the patient of any feasible alternatives to the medication, including care to relieve pain and keep the patient comfortable.

· The prescribing doctor asks the patient to notify their next of kin of the prescription request. (The doctor cannot require the patient to notify anyone, however.)

· The prescribing doctor offers the patient the opportunity to withdraw the request for aid-in-dying medication before granting the prescription.

Current status

As of August 2019, physicians may not prescribe medications under the law.

A Mercer County Superior Court Judge issued a temporary restraining order on the new law on August 15th, halting implementation until at least October 23.

On August 16, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal immediately filed an appeal to the temporary restraining order. The New Jersey Supreme Court denied his petition to allow the Aid in Dying Act to be in effect while the lawsuit resolves.

The matter is now resting with the state’s Appellate Court, which is tasked with deciding whether or not the law should be overturned.

Posted in: Aging, Health

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