“Enabling the dying to live a self-determined life”

Church diaconal institutions can play an important role in the way society provides care for the terminally ill, the Diaconal Conference of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches stated in Berne.

Palliative care is a term for providing care and support to people at the end of their lives. Known predominantly as a healthcare concept, there is another side to palliative care that so far has been underrepresented in public discourse: holistic care and support that integrates family members and promotes social connectedness.

“Being Wholly There – Palliative Care from a Diaconal Perspective” was the topic of the Diaconal Conference of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches held on April 18. Roughly 50 delegates of the 26 Protestant churches in Switzerland met in Berne to talk about the diaconal approach to palliative care.

“At the end of life, humanity shows itself in the significance the dying person holds for the people surrounding her or him,” Frank Mathwig emphasized in his lecture. The common knee-jerk reaction to dying is to see it as an illness and thus to leave it to the field of healthcare, the FSPC Senior Officer for Theology and Ethics added. Things appear in an entirely different light if dying is not juxtaposed with health but with death. From this perspective, dying can be understood as “the last chapter in a person’s life story.” Palliative care must strive to “enable dying persons to live their life in a way that is as self-determined and socially integrated as possible.”

Church diaconal services can provide an important service in this context, Mathwig explained: activities may include counseling family members and hosting self-help and relatives’ groups, providing training and placement for volunteers, and coordinating efforts in the civil-social sector.

Pastor and social pedagogue Martina Holder reminded listeners of Cicely Saunders, the co-founder of the modern hospice movement and palliative healthcare. The English physician and social worker, who passed away in 2005, emphasized “solidarity and relationships” instead of “medical care.” Holder explained that Saunders’s motto had been to foster a community of learning instead of hierarchies.

Later, various workshops gave participants the opportunity to engage in thought-provoking discussions. Topics included the situation of family members at the deathbed, as well as volunteer training in palliative and spiritual care provided by the church. One demand developed in the workshops was that the church should raise its visibility in the national palliative care strategy through qualification and networking.

The next Diaconal Conference will take place October 28, 2013, in Berne, in combination with the Women’s Conference.

Informations on the Diaconal Conference