Monday, December 13, 2010

Dying Well: Witnessing death enhances the lives of palliative care workers.

The Calgary Herald printed an incredible editorial yesterday. The article, Dying Well, reports on a recent study by University of Calgary Researcher Shane Sinclair, that found that caring for dying people gave greater meaning to the lives of the care-giver.

The article stated:
The idea of dying is a source of discomfort for many, but as a new study proves, death instils in its witnesses a healing wisdom which defies our habitual attempts to deny or control it.

University of Calgary researcher Shane Sinclair completed a cross-country study on the impact of death on palliative care workers and the results, recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, prove how wrongheaded society's ingrained thinking about end-of-life issues remains.

Sinclair's study is based on interviews with palliative care staff from doctors and nurses to janitors and volunteers in five major Canadian cities, including Calgary.

Overwhelmingly, workers revealed that constant exposure to dying patients allowed them to see meaningful truths which vastly enhanced their own lives.

Participants spoke of learning to live in the now and of having their minds opened to the

unfathomable mysteries of existence. Many felt that being forced to confront their own mortality through their patients made them better people and more effective, compassionate caregivers. While this exposure did not relieve their own fears of death, it did teach staffers about the important things in life and how to value them.

Philosophers have known for millenniums that the frenetic concerns of this world shrivel before the unchanging face of eternity but practical experience obviously drives this home better than any treatise.

One truth which was not mentioned in Sinclair's study can easily be drawn from its findings -- how euthanasia devalues human life and the enriching experiences which form so vital a part of it.

There are no lack of proponents arguing that medically assisted suicide ought to be legalized, even though helping someone to plan their own death amounts, no matter how you spin it, to premeditated murder.

People should spend their final days with their loved ones in a safe, comforting palliative environment with dedicated medical professionals present to make sure patients near death die in a manner as pain-free and dignified as possible, when their time has come.

To do otherwise, to enable the terminally ill or weary to take their own lives with professional help is to shift the focus at the end of life purely to the grief and anguish we already associate with death.

Euthanasia robs everyone -- both the living and the dying -- of the wisdom and positive, life-affirming experiences so richly attested to in Sinclair's study.

Death is not something to be actively embraced or sought out, but this doesn't mean the subject should be shunned the way it often is.

The dying have invaluable gifts to offer the living, as the living who spend time with the dying know well.

Shane Sinclair's study was titled: Impact of Death and Dying on the personal lives and practices of palliative and hospice care professionals.

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