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End-of-Life Doulas to support a good death

Doulas often support women during childbirth but they can also support individuals and families facing the end of life.

Photo of Erica Gibson
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Similar to hospital or hospice volunteers who sit vigils with patients in the twilight hours of people's lives, end-of-life doulas can help individuals and families embrace their final hours through preparation and presence.  An article last year in the New York Times covers some of the work that end-of-life doulas may do.  There are also several organizations that provide training and mentorship, such as INELDA and Accompanying the Dying.  For many health systems, doulas are already recognized care providers.  Expanding their role to end-of-life care could help patients have a smoother transition during this liminal time by understanding their wishes for a good death.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

In American culture we often don't talk about death, even though it is an inevitability for everyone. Doulas could create a cultural space through the medical system to make talking about a good death an approachable topic for patients and their families. I'm also a trained birth doula and can see the parallels between the beginning and end of life.

Tell us about your work experience:

I'm the Medical Ethnographer (trained as an anthropologist) for an innovation center under Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Sutter Health. Our team's mission is focused on successful aging.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tee Clare

Thank you for bringing this to light. I am a Death Doula in the Bay Area and find it to be incredibly rewarding work and much needed. Tee Clare

Photo of Ned Buskirk

Thanks for the resources, Erica! I'm looking into these now...

Photo of Morgan Meinel

Erica, thank you very much for contributing this article to the challenge!

It's so important to highlight the work and care of Doulas. On our Palliative Care Unit at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, we have many volunteers and end-of-life doulas who dedicate there time to creating an environment that is safe and supportive for our patients and families.

Our doulas offer our patients presence, time, and space to express their deepest concerns, fears and worries, but also their greatest joys and life reflections. Very often, one of our doula's will approach me (I'm a nurse on the unit) and offer very valuable insight and information regarding what would enhance the quality of life and support the needs of that particular person they were visiting. 

How can we draw inspiration from the work and care of end of life doulas - and inspire each other to create a safe and comforting space to talk about the end-of-life experience? 

Photo of Erica Gibson

Morgan thank you for sharing the work the end-of-life doulas are doing at Mt. Sinai!  This is exactly what I am talking about in my post.  People need a space to be heard and listening to someone's reflections can be transformative to all parties involved.  

Photo of Morgan Meinel

100% agreed! Offering support, presence, and simply listening to someone's concerns can often be a transformative and meaningful experience. Thanks again for you share, Erica!