The dying need a chance to talk, says Dr Elaine Sugden
by Kathy Gyngell, TCW:
[Editor’s note: Last Wednesday Wilberforce Publications and Christian Concern published their latest book – Talking about Dying which can be purchased here. In this interview, Kathy asked cancer doctor Elaine Sugden, one of its four authors, what prompted her to contribute to it.]
Elaine Sugden: Philip Giddings, a political scientist, instigated this joint effort. He had not known what to say when a friend was dying. He was challenged to write and asked my help. As a cancer doctor I was involved with the ‘Life Threatening Diagnosis’, the ‘Difficult Decisions’ and the question about ‘How and When’ death would occur. It was never easy to speak of death.
Almost no one wants to die. A doctor’s responsibility is to heal and prolong life where possible and when a reasonable quality of life can be maintained. In general doctors do not talk about death.
When the country was debating physician-assisted suicide, Martin Down, a retired clergyman, and I both wrote articles for the Church of England newspaper expressing dismay that patients without quality of life, often unable to communicate and needing artificial means to keep them alive, were denied a natural death. We wanted to help all people with these and other issues as well as stating our Christian beliefs. Martin himself was put off preaching about death when after once doing so early in his ministry, a parishioner asked him not to do so again ‘because death is morbid’.
In general, Christians, like doctors, do not talk about death. In general, the dying take their cue from those around them and do not talk about death. Given permission though, they can find it helpful.