The summary for our Sunday, May 20th meeting is provided by Nancy.
Sunday’s video was a TED Talk video by Peter Saul: “Let’s Talk About Dying”.
Peter Saul, who worked in intensive care as a profession, saw people each and every day who were in danger of dying or who died in his care, and therefore has a different way of looking on death. His first comment – “All of us will die in the 21st century – no exceptions” – got our attention and focused our thoughts on the subject at hand.
Mr. Saul felt very few people have a plan about what to do at the obvious end of life – what they would do if the treatment they were undergoing at the moment was not successful. Recovery is paramount in the minds of most people, but Mr. Saul feels we do not focus enough on the possible failure to recover. In older people, sudden death is very rare these days, Mr. Saul has found. Rather, it is usually a dwindling of capacity, with increasing frailty and decreasing ability to function. This is the result of better medicine and increasing longevity in people. For this reason, often the dying person is unable to make his choices about treatment known at the last.
As an example of something we can do, however, to obviate the possibility that treatment we would not wish would be performed, or that treatment we would wish would not be considered, Mr. Saul suggests making these decisions:
1. Decide who would speak for you when and if you cannot speak for yourself
2. Have a conversation with this person(s) about what you would like them to say
Our discussion afterward proved how interested everyone was in this subject, and several other suggestions were made during it, including defining what the term “Do everything you can” means to a doctor treating a dying person. Often this can mean lots of invasive procedures which neither the family nor the dying person would wish having performed. Apropos of this we discussed the importance of making proper legal documents for life, death, and the disposition of assets after death. Conrad suggested making a list of things and people we are grateful for now; this could be useful and helpful to the people involved both before and after our death, perhaps aiding in the construction of a celebration of the deceased’s life. The question was asked as to why we as Humanists feel we need ceremonies when someone dies. The closure this gives was felt to be a necessary part of acceptance of death for someone close to the deceased. In fact, our discussion went on for so long that Glenn put his own closure on the discussion by quoting Mark Twain, who once said, “It’s a terrible death to be talked to death!”