Final Steps tackles ‘denial of death’

  • Jasen Moniz, spokeswoman for the group Final Steps (File photograph)

A “denial of death” has caused stress and pain for people at the end of their lives — as well as for grieving families and doctors.

But Jasen Moniz and other volunteers from the group Final Steps aim to change viewpoints around the sensitive subject of death.

Ms Moniz, a retired dietitian, said: “I feel very, very passionately about this issue. I’ve stayed in the room with people going through the dying process. I was a caregiver for someone who died of multiple myeloma.

“I’ve gone through it on a very deep, personal level.”

The group, which at present has six members, was born out of a book club’s reading of the “life-changing” book by Atul Gawande, Being Mortal. which focused on hospice care and the personal stories of people dealing with ageing, illness and death.

The group decided to highlight its message at two public events last year, with palliative care physicians and gerontologists among their guest speakers.

Ms Moniz said: “We were told to expect six or seven people, and more than 100 people showed up, so we know there’s an interest.”

Ms Moniz, 64, spoke at Hamilton Rotary Club last week and Final Steps will present a 12-part series every second Thursday on the Ocean 89 radio station at 4.30pm. The next broadcast is on Thursday.

She explained her approach was shaped by painful experiences where doctors had failed to bow to the inevitable.

Ms Moniz said: “A very dear member of my husband’s family, who died in the intensive care ward, was still being aggressively treated up until two hours before death.

“The physician ordered her to be prepped for a colonoscopy, even though she wasn’t in any condition to go through surgery.

“You wonder why someone would do that. It was devastating to watch.”

Ms Moniz added that the “medicalisation of death” took an emotional toll on healthcare professionals as well.

Ms Moniz said that surveys in the United States revealed that 50 per cent of ICU nurses and 25 per cent of ICU doctors had been distressed to the point of considering quitting.

She added that it was ironic that medical advances were “the main driver” of a change in attitude.

Ms Moniz explained: “It has become possible to save people in very grave medical conditions. Millions have been brought back from the brink of death.”

But she said that a by-product was that death was seen as “a medical failure”.

Ms Moniz added that healthcare costs were also increased as a result of decisions to not let nature take its course.

She said: “The vast majority of healthcare dollars are spent in the last six months of an elderly person’s life.

“With what they call the grey tsunami, many countries are discovering that’s not sustainable.”

Ms Moniz added that charity Age Concern had found about 60 per cent of its members had not made preparations for the end of their lives.

She said Final Steps wanted the public to “decide what you want in terms of your own quality of life, and what you want for your family”.

But Ms Moniz said a common problem she had been told about was “people saying they’ve tried to initiate that conversation with an elderly relative, and getting shut down”.

Ms Moniz added that doctor-assisted suicide was “now legal across Canada — medical students are being taught about it”.

She said that several other countries and American states allowed some sort of medical assistance to die.

But she added: “We don’t consider that as part of our remit at all and don’t see that happening any time in Bermuda.

“We just want people to thoughtfully consider how they want to live their best life, right up to the very end.”