Former Supreme Court judge Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness has issued an appeal for more discussion in Ireland on the subject of death and dying.
Mrs Justice McGuinness told a major conference in Dublin Castle that we must stop putting death at a distance and instead talk about it in an open way.
“Many people seem to think that by discussing death, they will somehow bring it upon themselves. It’s reasonable and practical to talk about your wishes for end of life, from more trivial things like what hymn you want to be played at your funeral, to more serious matters like making a will.
“This day is all about having conversations. There are a number of levels at which these conversations can take place, at an individual level, community level and a national level – and they’re all equally important,” Mrs Justice McGuinness said to the delegates at Forum on End of Life 2015.
The theme of the forum is “Dying to Talk – Conversation about Death and Dying in Ireland”. Over 300 delegates attended the event which includes a ‘Death Café’ where people will gather over coffee and cake and discuss their feelings about different aspects of end of life; including whether they would prefer burial or cremation, if they would donate their body to medical science, or if they would send a tweet from their death bed.
Mrs Justice McGuinness is Chair of The National Council of the Forum on End of Life in Ireland, an initiative of The Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF), which is organising today’s conference.
The keynote speaker at the conference was Dr Katherine Sleeman, a clinical lecturer in palliative medicine at The Cicely Saunders Institute, Kings College London who will speak about a good death, and the importance of good communication at the end of life.
Research carried out by The Irish Hospice Foundation revealed that 75 per cent of people wish to die in their own homes surrounded by their loved ones. The reality is that only 25 per cent of people will get to do so, due partly to gaps in services.
Dr Sleeman said, “How we care for the dying is a measure of our society as a whole. We are living longer, and dying slower and with more complexity. Currently there is a mismatch between what people want toward the end of their life, and what people get. This leads to poor outcomes in death and bereavement for those individuals and the people they leave behind.
“There is growing evidence from research of the benefits of palliative care for people who are dying. But this evidence is often not enough to overcome the barriers to providing this care. Let’s talk about death and explore these barriers. We must all speak up for the rights of our patients, our loved ones, and our neighbours and friends, to a good death.”
For the Mary Holland Commemorative Lecture, Irish Times columnist Mick Heaney, son of the late Poet Laureate Seamus Heaney, examined the literature of dying, as he wondered why even writers seem to balk at addressing our final journey. He compared fiction, memoir and poetry on the matter, and also spoke about his personal experience of loss.
The conference will also hear from Wendy Coughlan from Wicklow who has terminal cancer. Wendy has been using the Think Ahead form (www.thinkahead.ie) to plan for end of life with her family. Her daughter Helen said, “Mum and I just hope that some people who have felt too frightened or unable to talk to someone they love might find the resolve or the strength within themselves to reach out and share their fears and their wishes having heard us.”
The morning panel, chaired by RTE’s Claire Byrne, included Journalist and Broadcaster Matt Cooper, who looked at ‘Death, Grief and the Media’, and Dr Ciara Kelly who addressed the topic of speaking with your GP about end of life.
Popular broadcaster Senator Marie Louise O’Donnell will address the afternoon session of the Forum which is chaired by journalist Dave Fanning. Workshops will also be held on grief, spirituality, planning ahead, and funeral arrangements.