The religious roots of individualism
A Catholic push against gun violence

The value of 'death doulas' for all

The late (thankfully) terrorist leader Osama bin Laden once said the difference between his followers and most Americans is that Americans love life while they love death.

Death-DoulaThere was a lot of truth in what he said. The American love of life is, in fact, a healthy, generative attitude. But it comes at the expense of lots of Americans who act as though death is optional. America is a death-denying culture in many ways, and that is in harmony with the in-the-blood predilection for the worship of youth that leads some of us to do all we can to slow aging, even as some of us seek to live damn near forever.

With that in mind, I was pleased and reassured to read this RNS story about "death doulas," people who seek to guide others toward a deeper understanding of death in general and of their own death in particular. As I've argued before, you'll never understand your own life if you don't understand your own death.

The story says there's "a growing number of death doulas who provide both spiritual guidance and logistical support for those facing the end of life. The name is an adaptation from the more commonly known birth doula profession β€” rather than facilitating birth, death doulas support a person whose life is coming to a close."

In some ways that's what professionals, including chaplains, who work for hospices do. (Disclosure: I serve on the board of Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care, a fabulous organization.)

Among the tasks of death doulas, the RNS story says, is to help clients do end-of-life planning, including creating advanced directives and living wills.

If there is an organization that, in some ways, functions as a death doula it would be the Center for Practical Bioethics, based in Kansas City, especially through its "Caring Conversations" program. If you're not familiar with it, take a look.

In my experience, families that are prepared for death seem to manage that difficult process much better than people who think it's just morbid to talk about it. Not it's not. It's wise.

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A Catholic high school in California is in the news because a former female students there accused school officials of disciplining her and forcing her into counseling for being gay. The school says it did nothing wrong in this case but that all students are held to the same policies β€œin compliance with the accepted teachings of the Catholic Church.” And the Catholic Church still teaches that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered." (See No. 2357 in the link.) Until the church comes to see that such a description is based on a misreading of scripture, these kinds of stories will continue.


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