Emily Taylor says talking about death and dying is the last taboo in America.
"A survey said that people were more comfortable talking to their children about sex and birth control than they were about talking to their parents about death," said Taylor, former dean of women at Kansas University and a member of the Kansas Board of Healing Arts.
But Taylor and about 20 other Douglas County residents are throwing statistics to the wind. They are looking at end-of-life issues and, in conjunction with the Journal-World's "Finding Our Way: Living with Dying in America" series, planning several events over the next three months to encourage community members to do the same.
"It's important to our community, and every community in the country, to set up an arrangement to have peace at the end of life, and to have people talk about it," Taylor said.
The group, called Lawrence Caring Community Council, is a grass-roots arm of the state's larger Life Project, a coalition of organizations working to ensure quality care for Kansans at the end of life. The Lawrence group formed last year and began concentrating on working with public broadcasting stations to air a statewide televised town hall meeting and to promote a PBS series on end-of-life issues produced by Bill Moyers.
This year, the council, under Taylor's leadership, is planning presentations to continue its public awareness campaign. Program topics include widowhood, pallative care, different cultures' views of death and dying, help for caregivers, hospice services and the death of a child.
The group also is planning discussion groups following a couple of performances of "Wit" in March at Lawrence Community Theatre. The play is about a cancer patient who is involved in an experimental treatment program even though it is clear she is going to die.
Taylor is quick to recite findings that back up the council's mission:
- On average, a person is disabled four years before his or her death. Most people die in hospitals and in pain.
- have people dying in agony ," she said. "We need to educate the professionals to relieve the pain and to consider people more than what is wrong with them. They need to provide whatever (pain medication) a patient needs at the end of life."
- In 1994, only five out of 125 medica
- textbooks included information about end-of-life care.
"They are taught how to cure diseases, and since death wasn't a disease it wasn't included," she said.
- On average, hospice services are provided the last two weeks of a person's life, when it is often too late to make end-of-life decisions, such as funera
- arrangements, living wills or making amends.
"People don't get enough time because doctors and the patients don't want to give up," she said.
- Only 25 percent of Americans have living wills and a fewer number have completed power of attorney documents that designate a person to make health-care decisions when they are no longer able to do so.
"It's important for people to understand their rights and what to expect from other people," Taylor said.
Other members of the Lawrence Caring Community Counci
- are Donna Bell, executive director, Brandon Woods Retirement Community; Bette Booth, socia
- marketer; Caroljean Brune, assistant to the dean, KU's Schoo
- of Education; Karen Davis, community information coordinator, Lawrence Public Library; Dorothy Devlin, executive director, Lawrence Presbyterian Manor; Janice Early-Weas, director of community relations, Lawrence Memoria
- Hospital; Ann Gardner, editoria
- page editor, Journal-World; the Rev. John Gingerich, retired; Dr. Phillip Godwin, retired; Margaret Gordon, professor emerita, KU's Schoo
- of Socia
- Welfare; Marcei
- Lauppe, executive director, Visiting Nurses of Douglas County; Suzanne McColl, president, Lawrence branch of the AARP; Larry McElwain, Warren-McElwain Mortuary; Sister Irene McGrath, director, Martha and Mary's Way; Gene Meyer, president and chief executive officer, Lawrence Memoria
- Hospital; Nadereh Nasseri, patient care coordinator, Hospice Care of Douglas County; the Rev. Judy Long O'Neal, Centenary United Methodist Church; the Rev. John Polk, chaplain, Lawrence Memoria
- Hospital; and Janet Riley, associate director, KU's budget management and fisca