Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

OK, Who's Ready to Have a Good Death?

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

OK, Who's Ready to Have a Good Death?

Article excerpt

'Do you know how you would like to spend the end of your life -- your last days and hours? Where would you like to be? Who would you like to be there with you? Who will ensure this for you if you cannot speak for yourself?"

With this heavy-lifting exercise of the imagination, Kathy Black, a professor of social work at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, boldly opened a recent talk at the Selby Library sponsored by the Florida affiliate of Final Exit Network, a group the supports "the human right to a death with dignity."

An impressive number of people turned up on a Saturday morning to hear Black discuss what constitutes a "good death," and were probably not surprised to hear that dignity is considered one of the essentials.

Even so, Black said, a dignified passing is tough to come by in the medicalized and depersonalized hospital environment where one out of four Americans take their last breaths.

"I've had people tell me that their loved one died while the patient in the next bed had 'The Price is Right' blaring on the television. That is a common experience," she said. "We've had stories of families who brought in photos, only to find those pictures pushed off to the side the next time they visited."

Often, Black added, doctors and nurses talk about what is happening inside the dying body, and fail to acknowledge the values and preferences of the patient in their care.

"Can you imagine lying in a bed while everyone's scurrying around you and talking about you, and not addressing you as a person?" she asked.

The health care industry, focused as it is on healing and curing, seems to have a cultural bias against allowing a natural and peaceful death to occur, Black explained.

"There's always something more they can do for you," she said. "I wish the providers would change, but in waiting for that to happen, you can still speak up. They're going to start to get this when we start to change the dialogue."

Thanks to the hospice movement, Black said, more Americans are once again dying at home, in dignified and peaceful surroundings. …

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