Unpacking stories: Death doulas in the media
A post written by Dr. Joana Liz Pimenta
The term ‘Doula’ is “of Greek origin that roughly translates as a 'woman caregiver'", and historically was a woman who helped in birthing. A doula has been defined as “a woman who provides social, emotional and practical support to other women during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. She is not a health professional and does not provide any clinical care”. While the role of a Death Doulas (DD) is not well defined, with different interpretations and different backgrounds, there is interest in this role and different representations in the public media. So how does the media present death doulas?
As part of my placement at Southern Adelaide Palliative Services (SAPS) and Research Centre for Palliative Care, Death, and Dying (RePaDD), I had a chance to undertake a piece of research around death doulas. At the end of 2017, a media company was engaged to provide a search of the terms 'death doula' and 'death midwives' in international online media. The search was conducted from a database of print, TV, and radio (summaries) and online news archives and retrieved 128 items. Items about death doulas in the media featured in general news, blog format, or in descriptions of events and events. While some items only mentioned the term 'death doula', many provided a focus on death doulas. Some were even written by death doulas. In general, the tone of the articles was emotional and supportive. Stories often referenced the reason why death doulas were drawn to this career and their sense of mission in the work.
The media items commonly highlighted their role in supporting and being present for the dying person as well as contributing to funeral arrangements. The stories reported on psychological support, being present around the end of life, understanding peoples’ needs and desires, providing information and resources, connecting people, giving meaning to the end of life, and empowering people to reclaim death as part of life.
These stories speak to a need to return to the traditional basics of death and provide options and support to modern clinical approaches. Rethinking death, a shift towards greater awareness and choice, filling the gap between the health system and funeral homes, and the problems associated with dying alone were some of the issues discussed in the media items.
So how should we understand the media’s interest in death doulas and the reason for their emergence? Does it speak to a gap between need and provision of care? Or does it reflect changing societal and spiritual practices as the role and focus of families and communities are changing? Media stories can bring to our attention changes that are occurring in our community, which can challenge us to think about how we provide care for people at the end of their lives in our society.
For further information read Death Doulas in the news: A Media Scoping Study
Dr. Joana Liz Pimenta
Medical Oncology Resident
Oncology Department of the Hospital Center of Vila Real and Trás-os-Montes, Portugal