Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dying Matters Coalition

Token picture of old chap looking serene and knowing and, in all probability, totally unaware that his picture has been hijacked by the Dying Matters Coalition to advertise its campaign. I take that back unreservedly.

We got our "Membership Certificate" in the post today, a token of our having signed up with the National Council for Palliative Care's campaign to 'promote public awareness and debate on issues of death dying and bereavement' earlier this year. Four Trust supporters went to the first annual members' Forum on 13 May this year. I think we sent more delegates than any other of the 100 organisations who were in on the launch of the "Dying Matters" coalition, as it is now called. The organiser even told me off for sending so many, but do I care?

As I've tried to point out in recent months and years, there's a big push in place from Government to improve End-of-Life Care, and especially to respect the wishes of the big majority of people who would prefer to die at home than otherwise, given the option, and being assured of a reasonable level of care at home to make dying comfortable, dignified, pain-free and with the dying person "in charge". In other words, with the sort of care one would normally expect to get in a hospice, but bearing in mind that less than 5% of dying people actually get hospice care, most of them children with life-limiting illnesses or (a few) terminal cancer patients.

It's impossible not to be cynical about Government motives for wanting people to 'choose' to die at home: it's obviously a lot cheaper than dying in a hospice, and it saves blocking a hospital bed that might be needed for someone on a waiting list. Die-at-home is clearly a bean-counter's dream. But there's also good evidence that people do want to die at home, given the provisos mentioned. Nonetheless, the "Dying Matters - Let's Talk About it" campaign needs to be seen in that light, as a marketing device to raise awareness of the "options" available, and - possibly - to nudge people towards a cheaper end-of-life solution than currently exists.

As a Buddhist I've no quarrel with any strategy that brings the inevitability of death into sharper focus, especially if that focus embraces the way we live our lives while we've still got lives to live, and encourages us to live them more fully. That's the moment-by-moment challenge facing each of us, and the essence of the Buddhist way, it seems to me.

I'm rather sceptical, though, about this preoccupation with the "Good Death" - it's a concern that has too high a salience with many western Buddhists. Surely if we can get living right, and have more day-to-day concern for the Good Life - not the fantasy Good Life of big houses, expensive cars and endless youth courtesy of the plastic surgeon's scalpel - the good death follows on naturally? Or did I miss something in the Buddha's teachings?

The next step? The "Dying Matters" campaign proposes three things we can do as an 'organisation' to help raise public awareness and build a strong "cross-sector coalition". Here they are:

1. Tell other organisations you work closely with the Dying Matters Coalition and encourage them to join too. If you want to join as an individual (remember, you will get a Certificate!), go to or phone Freephone 08000 21 44 66

2. Support the Dying Matters National Awareness Week (15th-21st March 2010) and plan an activity or event to raise awareness.

3. Let the Coalition know what you are currently doing to raise awareness of death, dying and bereavement and share your examples of good practice with the Coalition.

If you've any ideas about how to do these things, let us know.

As for myself, well, I put myself about on behalf of the Trust by 'blogging', by going out to give talks to Buddhist groups here and there, by putting in time at meetings or conferences, by occasionally running workshops like the one I offered recently at the Mind-Spirit conference in Chelmsford Cathedral, and by writing articles and letters (not all of them get published, but some do). And I try to keep myself "in shape" as best I can as a Buddhist practitioner, though my practice is as idiosyncratic and unruly as I bet yours is. If I offend you, I apologise (fingers crossed).

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