I was reading a CBC News item about a new Aboriginal program that teaches young people the skills of a “death doula.” You might have heard that word, “doula,” used in the context of childbirth. Some of you have had one. The term was coined in the 1960s and has grown along with the natural birth movement: a doula is normally an experienced woman recruited to provide a new mother with advice, information and encouragement. Their role is something like that of a classic midwife, but they provide coaching rather than technical expertise.
It’s a pretty short conceptual leap from there to the “death doula,” a wise older person who knows a lot about grief, palliative care, funerals, maybe the law. It’s probably a fine idea. The natural birth movement, although easy to mock, has done a lot of good at the other end of the human lifespan. Doctors and lawyers have so much social authority that we have to invent new institutions, new forms of advocacy, to keep them in check, ask intelligent questions and promote common sense. Or hippie nonsense, for that matter: people devour absurd health ideas precisely because they sense that something has gone wrong with the ill-regulated power of medical professionals.
tap here to see other videos from our team.