When death has value, so does care.
A blog post written by Dr. John Rosenberg
Much has been said about death as the last great taboo in our world. “We live in a death-denying society” is a popular view. Yet every day we hear about dying. We are witnesses of COVID and war, deadly ailments and dramatic injuries. Channel surf your TV – how many shows entertain us with hospital dramas, murder mysteries and forensic investigations, complete with cadaveric dissection in all its detail? We can download and drown ourselves in fictional and factual deaths, caught on camera.
This kind of death is far from invisible. Our living is saturated with death, often to the extent that we are numbed to it. Death loses its value when its presence in our lives is so ubiquitous, we hardly notice it’s all around us.
It’s no small wonder that when natural dying, death and grief come our way, we seem ill-equipped for it. Collectively, we know so little about how to care for each other in dying. Most care at the end of life takes place away from health services, where networks of care can provide support. Family caregiving can be both relentless and rewarding; long-term caregiving can be profoundly isolating and undervalued.
Maybe, instead, we are living in a “death-devaluing society”?
Earlier this year, the Lancet Commission on the Value of Death was released. A global team of authors teases apart the story of dying in the 21st Century and declare, “Death and dying must be recognised as not only normal, but valuable.” This is not simply a philosophical position – for death and dying to be normal and valuable, they must inhabit our public narratives, our communities, our health services and our public policies. They must reach into and beyond the edges of our societies to embrace disadvantage and diversity.
An informed community can become an engaged community – not simply the recipients of information, communities can influence the public narratives, provide consumer representation to health services, and advocate for public policy platforms that acknowledge the value of death.
This is not a static state, nor a fixed goal. Dying, caregiving, death and grieving take place in complex, dynamic, cultural and interpersonal complexity; they exist in policy and healthcare frameworks. The value of death lies in finding pertinent ways that prevent and relieve suffering, connect people and communities, and support caregiving. When we rediscover the value of death, we find paths to care that enable full living in the presence of dying.
“I will not die an unlived life,” says Dawna Markova. I hope this is true for me. I also hope that I will not die a devalued death.
Dr John Rosenberg
Senior Lecturer, The School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine, University of the Sunshine Coast and President, Public Health Palliative Care International