A Good Death: The Benefits of Talking about End of Life
by Bethany Slack, MPH, MT
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…” - Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a
As human beings, we all share the common experiences of birth and death. But we tend to focus our time and energy planning, living out, and seeking to improve our time here on earth. Many of us give little attention to how we wish to experience the end of earthly life.
Passage into extreme old age or the discovery of terminal illness can stir up confusion and conflicting desires. Miscommunication with family and medical staff is common.
If we have avoided discussing End of Life (EOL) issues as families, churches, and communities, there are usually medical, relational, financial, and spiritual ramifications. But open conversation benefits both the individual and the community.
You May Be Surprised To Learn
- Research indicates that 80% of people would like to die at home, yet only about one third do.
- Dying in a hospital is pricier and comes with more aggressive treatments than dying in other facilities or at home.
- Hospice services offer treatments that make a terminally ill person comfortable at the end of life, and more people than ever are choosing to receive hospice care.
- Persons with terminal cancer who are part of a highly supportive spiritual community are more likely to receive aggressive care and die in the hospital, rather than choose hospice or home care.
- Among those with highly supportive spiritual communities, racial/ethnic minorities and those reporting strong reliance on God are even more likely to receive aggressive treatments at the end of life.
Introducing a Boston Public Health and Wellness Initiative
The Public Health and Wellness (PH&W) initiative at the Emmanuel Gospel Center is beginning to explore such end of life questions, building on our ministry partners’ wisdom, insights, and contributions to the field.
Observing the needs of her own congregation, Rev. Gloria White-Hammond, M.D. of Bethel AME Church began Planning Ahead, a ministry to encourage discussion of EOL issues and advance directives. Michael Balboni, Ph.D., Th.M., affiliated with Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, has published extensively about the role of spirituality and spiritual care in medicine and end of life care. Both have a desire to see EOL issues more widely engaged in faith communities.
With Dr. White-Hammond and Dr. Balboni, the PH&W initiative is planning a 2017 convening in the Boston area with the hope of connecting pastors and other Christian leaders with medical professionals. We hope to spark a new vision in faith communities of what a “good death” can look like, and how planning for good deaths can benefit and bless our city and society.
1. Learn more about the current state of EOL in the United States.
2. Connect with me for further conversation.
3. Financially support the Public Health & Wellness Initiative at EGC.
Bethany Slack, MPH, MT, is the Public Health and Wellness research associate at EGC. Her passion is to see Jesus’ love translated into improved health and health justice for all, across the lifespan and across the globe.