Judge Catherine McGuinness calls for national conversation on end of life in Ireland

Categories: Policy.

Announcing details of a major conference in Dublin Castle on September 10th with the theme “Dying to talk? – Conversations about End of Life” Judge McGuinness said death is a fact of life and as a country we need to talk about our wishes and fears to allow us make most of our lives.

“Young people don’t think about death. Middle age ignores it. There are things to look forward to – starting a family, buying a house, retirement. The reality is we never know what is around the corner. As sure as we have been born, we will die, and we have to stop turning a blind eye to this fact of life.”

Judge 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 hosts a conference every two years.  The National Council was formed five years ago with a remit to highlight end-of-life issues that matter most to people. 

Research shows that annually 29,000 people die in Ireland each year.  “Death will come to all of us at some stage and there is hardly a family in Ireland that will be untouched by death this year. We need to start talking more openly about it and to listen to people’s wishes and views.” Judge McGuinness says.

She pointed to a recent Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) national survey which 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 huge to gaps in services. A national conversation needs to be supported by good policy to make sure people can access good services.”

This year’s  Forum 2015 conference will feature a “Death Cafe” where people can discuss all aspects of dying and breathe life into the conversation as they drink tea and eat cake. (Death Café was founded by Jon Underwood based on the work of Bernard Crettaz.)

The key note speaker at Forum 2015 is Dr Katherine Sleeman, a lecturer in palliative care medicine at Kings College in London who will talk about having a good death.

Dr Sleeman said recently: “Death isn’t failure – but avoiding the conversation is. We are all going to die. And while medical science gets better and better, many aspects of death and dying have reciprocally become worse and worse. Dying has become a casualty of medicine’s triumphs: medicalised, sterilised, institutionalised and interventionalised.

She added: “A good death is possible, and there is more than one way to die well. But there are minimum requirements. These are that we recognise the fact that our patient is likely to die, that we communicate this with them openly and honestly, and that we sensitively explore their priorities, their hopes, and their fears. If we want to die well as a society we need to stop whispering about death and start talking about it.”

Journalist Mick Heaney, son of the late Poet Laureate Seamus Heaney, will deliver the Mary Holland Commemorative Lecture, and broadcaster  and Independent Senator Marie Louise O’Donnell will address the afternoon session of Forum. RTE’s Claire Byrne will Chair the morning session.

There will be workshops at Forum 2015 on the following themes:

·         Conversations at End of Life: Maintaining hope to the end

·         Good Grief: How to facilitate a therapeutic conversation

·         My conversations: Thinking and planning ahead

·         Everything you need to know when making funeral arrangements

Forum 2015 is open to interested members of the public as well as healthcare professionals. 

To book a place go to: www.hospicefoundation.ie or call 01 6793188



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