Ten million people in the UK are over the age of 65 and the need for end of life care is growing. The pressures on healthcare services, the caring profession and family carers are set to rise in coming years. But for many people in the UK, death and how we die are difficult subjects that we’d rather not face, let alone speak out about. Could it be that a major shift is needed in our attitudes to dying? This is one of the questions I hope to explore as part of a new documentary project called The Soul Midwives: Quest For A Good Death – which has recently been submitted to the Wellcome Trust for development funding, with the support of Professor David Clark.
What is the Soul Midwife movement?
Soul Midwifery is a 400-strong, growing movement in UK end of life care that provides non-religious companionship to the dying based on 12 principles. Soul Midwives aim to facilitate a peaceful death, drawing from “traditional skills, now largely forgotten, applying them to our modern world to lovingly ease the passage of the dying, and to ensure that their death is a dignified and peaceful experience”*.
If the film is successfully funded, it will follow a small number of Soul Midwives in their quest to help people living with a terminal diagnosis to have ‘a good death’. This could mean:
– reconciling with loved ones,
– releasing regrets and painful emotions,
– fulfilling last wishes,
– planning the circumstances of their own dying, and
– exercising choice at this profound life stage.
We also hope to follow an aspiring Soul Midwife through the training process with Felicity Warner, foundress of the movement, and discover what makes Soul Midwives so different to other end of life carers.
Could Felicity be a 21st-century pioneer in care, as were the religiously and philanthropically inspired women of the 19th century who paved the way for Cicely Saunders’ hospice movement? Why is Soul Midwifery so appealing to people today? Is Soul Midwifery the shape of care to come and what lessons could it hold for us all?
Why am I interested in this issue?
What’s become clear during the six months I’ve been researching end of life care, meeting Soul Midwives and learning about the issue is that: what constitutes ‘a good death’ is contested. Some would argue pain and discomfort relief is paramount. Others that choice in the manner of our death is most important.
Although the media regularly reports shocking stories of people who have experienced poor care at end of life, the pathway to a better situation is unclear. A recent Royal College of Physicians / Marie Curie report suggests that there are significant variations in the standards of hospital end of life care across England, and particular concerns about poor communication with dying patients and their families.
This is a substantive context in which to make The Soul Midwives: Quest For A Good Death, and it’s why I believe it is so important that we find the funding to do so.
Why am I making this film?
As a documentary film director, part of my job is to understand, relate to and empathise with people’s personal stories, while keeping a firm grip on the wider context that is influencing and impacting their experiences and situation.
My thinking, planning and approach to filming is informed by expert opinion, documentary evidence, social research, political and legislative events, news reports, anecdotes, personal testimonies and socio-historical or cultural analysis.
As such, I’m very pleased to have the expertise and support of Professor Clark in developing The Soul Midwives project.
By shedding light on this new movement in end of life care, whose valuable insights are already influencing professional thinking, I hope that more people will evaluate what a good death means to them … And do something about it, whether that’s helping a loved one talk about how they’d like to go, making a will, writing their own death plan. Or simply becoming more aware of the end of life issues that one day, we may all be facing.
Clare Sturges is Creative Director of brightest comms + film
Clare has directed public sector films on dementia care and adoption, and won international awards for her TV documentaries. She is working with Professor Clark and Executive Producer Elizabeth Morgan Hemlock of Arturi Films to research, develop and secure funding for The Soul Midwives. Clare will be attending Sheffield Doc/Fest https://sheffdocfest.com/ to promote the film to industry in June 2014. Follow Clare’s blog at www.wearebrightest.com/blog
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