“What is a Death Doula, and what do they do?”
This is a question that is no doubt very familiar to both practising death doulas and death doula candidates. In their unique roles, death doulas are trained to provide non-medical support to help individuals and their families navigate the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of dying.
Death doulas also play a key role in terms of administrative and logistical planning and support before, during, and after a death. They help with Advance Care Planning (ACP) and end-of-life planning, assist with funeral and celebration-of-life arrangements, and create legacy projects. They are also trained to help facilitate conversations between clients and their families/friends that may otherwise prove challenging or that would not happen at all.
In essence, death doulas are equipped to provide compassionate and comprehensive support to a dying individual and their loved ones throughout their entire end-of-life journey.
What is Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD)?
Medical Assistance in Dying, or MAiD, provides individuals who are experiencing intolerable suffering due to a grievous and irremediable (incurable) medical condition the option to end their life with the assistance of a doctor or nurse practitioner. The original passage of Canada’s Bill C-14 occurred in June 2016. Bill C-14 formally legalized assisted dying in Canada and laid out rules for how it could be accessed. Canada’s revised MAiD law Bill C-7 was tabled by the federal government in February 2020 and reached Royal Assent on March 17, 2021.
You can read more about MAiD and Bills C-7 and C-14 here.
How do Death Doulas Assist Those Accessing MAiD and their Families?
When someone chooses MAiD over a natural death, there are many ways that a death doula can provide support for both the individual accessing MAiD and for their loved ones. This may include:
providing information about eligibility, the process of applying for MAiD, who is authorized to provide MAiD, and how to contact them
explaining details and answering questions (e.g., medical and legal considerations) about the process of MAiD
discussing and planning the location and how to prepare for MAiD
ensuring that health and personal care wishes are honoured
facilitating meaningful and/or difficult conversations
planning, and if requested, participating in vigils
overseeing legacy and work-life review (e.g., scrapbooking, letter writing to loved ones, video farewells, etc.)
offering and facilitating non-medical comfort care/complementary therapies that may be requested (e.g., guided meditation, reiki, hypnotherapy, therapeutic music, massage, essential oil therapies, etc.)
providing information about what needs to be done after death has occurred (e.g., body disposition options and funeral/celebration-of-life planning)
Death doulas hold space, provide compassionate and dignified care, empower, educate, and comfort the individual accessing MAiD and their loved ones throughout the entire end-of-life journey. This comprehensive support both honours and celebrates a life lived and creates enduring and meaningful memories for those left behind.
Are You a Death Doula who Aspires to Support Those Seeking a Medically Assisted Death?
Home Hospice Association (HHA) offers a professional development workshop that builds on skills learned in death doula training called MAiD and the Death Doula. The session provides insight into the challenges of working with a client who chooses MAiD over a natural death. HHA’s next workshop will be held virtually on Saturday, January 28th from 9:00 AM-5:00 PM. You can register to attend here.
Carole Brulé is an end-of-life doula, HHA infant and pregnancy loss doula candidate, and a visiting home hospice and pediatric palliative care volunteer.