On August 20th, Chicago Bridge hosted an event which addressed possibly one of the next social issues of our time, Death with Dignity. The panelists touched a variety of topics concerning death with dignity in terms of its social, cultural, legal, emotional, spiritual, and structural implications. Encompassing a variety of perspectives and experiences, our panelists successfully engaged the attendees in a thought-provoking discussion which touched a versatility of points.
Special thanks to Phyllis B. Mitzen of the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration who moderated the panel and introduced us to the four impressive panelists. The Chicago Bridge would also like to share a special thanks to both Trish Abby from the Kott Gerontological Institute who kindly donated the space to host the event, and Heather Lundstrom and Moses Williams of Oak Park Arms who graciously provided such a wonderful meal for our attendees and panelists. We had a total of 33 attendees in the event, with 40 RSVP’s. Unfortunately we could not accommodate all who did RSVP to the event, however such a dramatic response demonstrates the overall significance of the topic discussed.
The panelists included Ed Gogol, President of Hemlock Illinois, Patricia J. Whitney, MBA, MA, Bereavement Specialist for Alexian Brothers Hospice, Bruce Koff, LCSW, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Office of Live Oak, and Clayton L. Thomason, J.D., M.Div, Chairman of the Department of Religion, Health and Human Values, and Director of the Program in Healthcare Ethics at Rush University.
The discussion began with Ed Gogol who presented to the group the framework of Death with Dignity. Mr. Gogol posed the question; “What does it mean to do no harm?” specifically in the context at end of life. Mr. Gogol touched on the ethical and legal implications associated with the choice to die. Additionally Mr. Gogol addressed the legal framework currently in place domestically, as well as abroad as the framework that may shape the death with dignity conversation.
Patricia Whitney was the next panelist to present, addressing the discrepancies that surface through the provision of care at the end of life as an indication of the need for greater education for both Physicians and Families. Ms. Whitney recognized that overall, at times Physicians and Families may not have the tools appropriate to navigate the difficult conversations and understand all options. Ms. Whitney commented that it appears within the Western culture, Physicians often have control over the end of life issue and made a point to note that significance. Ms. Whitney stated that at times, a burden may be placed on the family without appropriate support, due to the very nature of the structures currently in place.
Bruce Koff facilitated a connection between the talking points of Ms. Whitney as he conducted a conversation focused on the structural perspective regarding the family system and overall family decision. Mr. Koff acknowledged that often what is forgotten is that the family are the survivors and this movement should focus on ensuring that dignity is instilled within the family as well through the loss that they experience. Mr. Koff provided a personal experience to illustrate his point regarding the influence of family systems. Mr. Koff also touched on the culture bound definitions of death with dignity and the influence of a cultural lens in terms of what is defined as a dignified death.
Clayton Thomason rounded out the initial discussion session where he began by addressing the idea of a false sense that we strive to believe we are “in control.” “We suffer under the illusion of being in control” and this is dictated to us from a Western Philosophical point of view. Professor Thomason then provided an evident example of the need to redefine medical, social, and legal structures through exemplifying Hospice regulations. Medicare regulates that for one to qualify for Hospice he/she must be provided a diagnosis of 6 months or less to live, and that, per Ms. Whitney, the average length of stay for a Hospice patient is 15 days. The model of “6 months or less to live” is an old model of care as it demonstrates the failure to grasp the reality of end of life.
Once the panelists concluded their time of initial topic introduction, an opportunity arose for the panelists to respond to one another’s thoughts and ideas that they presented. It was a lively discussion which paired the realities of social, legal, and cultural structures, with that of how these systems could change. Death with Dignity continues to be a controversial topic, and this discussion is just the beginning what this choice dictates and demonstrated it as an essential topic that necessitates continued conversation.
For more information below is a list of a few informative websites:
·Compassion and Choices: http://www.Compassionandchoices.org
·Death with Dignity National Center: www.deathwithdignity.org
·Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization (ERGO): www.finalexit.org
·Final Exit Network: www.finalexitnetwork.org
·Hemlock of Illinois: www.hemlockofillinois.org/
·The world Federation of Right to Die Societies: www.worldrtd.net