A ‘Good’ Death

Free Jan. 31 community discussion
focuses on how to live well while dying

RANDOLPH – Few would likely pick a “bad” death. But what is a “good” death and how do you choose one?

Those are the questions regional hospice and health care experts will address at a Thursday, Jan. 31 event at Gifford Medical Center titled “What is a ‘Good’ Death?” The talk, a free community discussion open to all, is from 5-6:30 p.m. in the Randolph hospital’s Conference Center.

Presenting in an interactive discussion framed by both personal and professional experiences will be Brookfield music therapist Islene Runningdeer, Gifford palliative care nurse John Young, and BAYADA Home Health Care hospice nurse Cynthia Stadler.

Gifford mental health practitioner Cory Gould is organizing the event as a member of the hospital’s Advanced Illness Care Team, comprised of doctors, nurses, hospice agency representatives and others who all focus on providing high quality palliative and hospice care both within and outside of the hospital.

Gould turns to a 2009 New York Times article to describe a “bad” death. In it, a bad death is thought of as a prolonged one, where costly medical interventions poured into the last months of life extend dying without providing quality of life, considering patient wishes or accounting for what most seek – comfort and dignity.

According to a study by the Debate of the Age Health and Care Study Group and widely used today, the principles of a “good” death are:

  • To know when death is coming, and to understand what can be expected
  • To be able to retain control of what happens
  • To be afforded dignity and privacy
  • To have control over pain relief and other symptom management
  • To have choice and control over where death occurs (at home or elsewhere)
  • To have access to information and expertise of whatever kind is necessary
  • To have access to any spiritual or emotional support required
  • To have access to hospice care in any location, not only in a hospital
  • To have control over who is present and who shares the end
  • To be able to issue advance directives, which ensure wishes are respected
  • To have time to say goodbye, and control over other aspects of timing
  • To be able to leave when it is time to go, and not to have life prolonged pointlessly

“These are the fundamental principles, but how does one attain that?” Gould asks.
Event presenters will address and expand upon these topics.

One tool presented will be Dr. Ira Byock’s four phrases for improving life and death. Those four “things,” as he calls them, are “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you” and “I love you.” Dr. Byock is a renowned palliative care physician, author and the director of palliative medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“There’s a lot of life at the end,” says Gould, noting a death can be a celebration of the life lived. “People have a hard time thinking about that, but death is natural and we’re all going there. And it’s way better if we plan for it.”

Gould sees anyone benefiting from the talk, but says those “who feel, or know someone who is, closer to the end than the beginning” will especially benefit. This discussion follows a November talk where dozens came out in treacherous weather to “Start the Conversation.”

Following “What is a ‘Good’ Death?” will be two more community discussions: “Grief: The Price We Pay for Love” on Feb. 28 and “Afterwards: The Business of Dying” on March 28.

Participants may attend one or all events. No registration is required and all events are free. Gould can be reached at (802) 728-7100, ext. 7, to answer any questions.

The Gifford Conference Center is on the first floor of the hospital and marked with a green awning from the patient parking area. For handicapped access, take the elevator from the main lobby to the first floor.


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