Death Doulas – How to have a good death

Loneliness is on the rise with many elderly people facing an isolated and frightening death and this ever-increasing problem in modern living is not going away.

However, just as in childbirth, where there is a place for the non clinician to guide and assist a mother through birth, increasing numbers of people are training to help people through their ultimate journey. They are known as “Death Doulas”. The concept of a death doula is all the more important as care at the end of life becomes increasingly medicalised. In the past, where 85% of deaths were at home surrounded by family and friends, now around 50% of people die in hospital.

The value of a death doula is that they will become trusted by the dying person and be a point of contact and support. Over a period of time they will be there to listen to the patient’s concerns, share their interests and help them through their pain or share other troubles and worries associated with death. They are not a substitute for medical care provided by the Health Service but complement traditional services.

Many death doulas have a background in nursing, social care and palliative care and may have worked as carers. The majority of them are women.

The focus on keeping the dying patient alive and care in traditional healthcare is about meeting medical needs but the role of a death doula assists in a much broader sense in giving the dying a sense of empowerment and looking for example at their last wishes and trying to facilitate these.

Death doulas have different approaches. Some are interested in the spiritual side and some are not. It is less prescriptive in its approach than the medical care and about a need to connect with the individual.

Although the numbers of end of life doulas are beginning to increase, there are still only around 100 of them in Britain. Nevertheless, research published at the beginning of this year by the British Medical Association indicated that not being able to choose where one’s final days were spent was a key concern for many people. Death Doulas can be a valuable part of the team around a dying person, offering a different approach from the more traditional Hospice and personalising care around the individual.

If you or an elderly relative need advice regarding access to health or social care provision then contact a member of our Elderly Care Team.

If you are concerned about the quality of medical treatment given to yourself or a relative, contact a member of our Medical Negligence Team on 0345 209 1055.