An Otago palliative care doctor has urged Kiwis to embrace talking about death and dying, saying trying to hide isn’t helpful to us as a society.
Dr Amanda Landers, Senior Clinical Lecturer in the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, says “there’s a real push to sanitise death” that’s emerged in recent times.
The comments come after her article on the same issue in The Listener in January drew significant feedback.
“We’ve sort of tucked [death] away from society,” Dr Landers told Sela Alo and Sam Bloore during Newstalk ZB’s Good Friday broadcast.
“It used to be part of the village – children were involved, funerals were just part of the community – but that’s all shifted. There’s parallels with the medicalisation of birth, we’ve kind of done it with death as well.
“That’s a problem, because it’s become a taboo subject and something people don’t want to talk about. There’s a sense that if we talk about it, it becomes closer somehow.”
Dr Landers says that extends to how we talk about death – the way our tone of voice changes, the way we whisper about it, the way we avoid calling death what it is.
“I see it in the media a lot – there are euphemisms like ‘he lost his battle with cancer’. I’m pretty sure people aren’t soldiers or warriors, it’s just an illness that’s happened in their lives.
“Our language is really important and it seems to be really changing, and I’m just not sure it’s helpful to us as a society.”
Dr Landers says for her and other people who work in palliative care recognise that death is normal, natural and comes to all of us.
She says it’s an amazing privilege to be part of someone else’s story, and being in close proximity to those who are close to death every day inspires her to live a good life.
“We know that life is short – so we love well, we play well, we work well. What a great thing to do and be paid for. It’s a true privilege."
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