Pagans and end-of-life care
Q: Does end-of-life care prolong life or does it prolong suffering? Should it be a part of health-care reform?
For Pagans, death is a part of the natural cycles of life. Death comes to us all, in time, and death is not something to fear. Life is to be savoured, but when life becomes a burden of pain and suffering, each one of us has the right to determine at what point we say, "Enough!"
I see a powerful, positive role for counseling in that process of discernment. Just to be honest, here, I am the adult child of two social workers and was raised with counseling and therapy as our true childhood religion. Underlying my Paganism and even Judaism, the other religion of my youth, is the deep belief that people can help one another through even the hardest of times by empathetic listening.
When I face death, I'd like to know what all the medical and pain-management treatments are available, their likely prognoses and costs--financial, physical and emotional. I would like my friends and family to have a neutral, sympathetic ear to help them bear their grief and cope with the hundreds of practical details surrounding the end of a life. I would like a neutral, empathetic person--someone who is not immersed in their own grief as I fondly imagine my friends and love ones will be, but who can hear my own doubts and pain and be there as a sounding board. An ethical counselor does not make decisions for a client, but helps clients to weigh their options and find their own answers.
Counseling the dying is a sacred responsibility. End of life counseling can be deeply beneficial to the dying and their loved ones. While people of faith may have connections to their own priestesses, priests, rabbis, ministers, imams or teachers as counselors, for others, faith-based counseling may not be a good fit. Mind and body are linked, and emotional support can ease the suffering of the body. Providing counseling as part of end-of-life care is good medicine, good religion, and good sense.
November 4, 2009; 11:42 AM ET
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