LIFE Before Death #26: The D Word

2011 November 11
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LIFE Before Death Wins Accolade Award!

Short Film 26 of 50 in the LIFE Before Death documentary series about the global crisis in untreated pain and the dramatic life changing affect palliative care services can deliver to patients and their families around the world.

In “The D Word”¬†we talk about Death. We learn about different cultures and how they perceive death and why there is so much fear around discussing it.

“Many people they still treat the subject of death and dying as a taboo, and if you look at some very traditional values of the Chinese culture you will see that death means unlucky, so people, they try not to touch the subject at all, which poses difficulty for us because if you don’t talk about it it’s difficult to make preparations and then people will have many regrets afterwards,” reflects Faye Chan (Hong Kong). “Say a doctor wants to refer a patient to hospice, some people may think that if you go to a hospice that means the time won’t be long and they don’t really want to face that kind of issue.”

Dr Cynthia Goh (Singapore) explains that it’s not just Asian culture that finds death a negative thing to talk about however in Chinese culture “death is not only something bad that happens to people but also something maybe contagious in terms of bad luck, not contagious physically and I think those ideas really need to be changed”.

“Death is a taboo in many countries, the elephant in the room as we may say in the west, we don’t talk about the fact that people are dying, we have a fear that maybe talking about it will take away hope, the will to live. My own experience that in actual fact being honest and talking to people about it doesn’t take away hope, it allows people to make responsible decisions about their own future, if we address openly the issue we are talking about,” reports Dr Jim Cleary (Australia).

“I think the most important way to overcome a fear of death is to have experienced someone else’s death when it goes well. I am struck throughout my career that the actual experience of dying over those months and years is far better than anyone could imagine. The fear comes from imagining it rather than actually experiencing it in the context of family,” explains Dr Charles Von Gunten (USA).

“Increasingly across the board we’re encouraging physicians to not just blurt out information, it really important to be careful to go into patients and find out what they want to know. So we go in and we actually ask patients what is it you want to know about your condition,” continues Dr Cleary. “We’re giving permission back to the patients to actually talk about this important issue.”

“One of the most rewarding things for me as a physician is to be able to watch how people cope well, if they get the proper support, good pain control, good attention to their emotions, good attention to their families, their practical issues, attention to their spiritual life, it goes remarkably well,” concludes Dr Von Gunten.

Featuring: Faye Chan (Hong Kong), Dr Cynthia Goh (Singapore), Dr Andrew Young (China), Dr Jim Cleary (Australia), Dr Charles Von Gunten (USA)

If you’ve missed previous episodes, catch up on the LIFE Before Death website…

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