Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Introducing "Death Midwives"

What is a "death midwife"? 

     "Just as a birth midwife provides care at the beginning of life, a death midwife
     provides care during the final stages of life. Professional death midwives can offer
     the dying and their family spiritual and emotional comfort, advocate for their
     rights, guide them through paperwork, plan special burial rituals, and act as a
     liaison with funeral homes. Although certification processes are still relatively
     new and not yet standardized, there are a number of options for people interested
     in training and certifying to be a death midwife or, as it sometimes called, death doula."

     "Family-Directed Choice means you have the right to care for your loved one through  
     death at home; and to make educated, informed decisions about the death and dying

After Death Home Care ~ Ann Arbor, MI
     "In 25 years of professional life I have been helping people make empowering choices
     concerning their health care, specifically in women’s health and childbirth. My work
     as a home birth midwife for many years gave me the privilege of working very
     personally with families during a major life transition."
     "Preparing the body for a home funeral: This document is intended for the primary
      person takingthe lead in preparing the body for a wake and his or her helpers."

     "Death is as certain and sacred as birth."

This post feels like a collection of links, and it is.  There isn't much conversation written between the lines, mostly because I'm speechless. 

I see many parallels in language, words like "empowerment, choice, and educated/informed decisions" to that of home birth midwives.  The other glaring parallel is that "certification" is earned in a weekend workshop, but a self-appointed person or group.  18 hours of online learning is also considered sufficient. 

I find it interesting that these folks are even referring to themselves as "death midwives or doulas", and many of them are home birth midwives or doulas in practice.    I suppose at least in this line of work, the clients and families they are serving are knowingly coming to end of life.  It's the irony that gets me.  Thoughts? 


  1. I thought this was a sarcastic joke of some sort. The irony? Painfully, morbidly similar to all these issues you deal with on this blog.

  2. This makes me crazy. I am a hospice chaplain with 5 years of experience, a master's degree, four units of clinical training, working toward board certification. There is one hell of a lot of woo in end-of-life care and I encounter it on a regular basis. All of the stuff that makes folks crazy about NCB (people "choosing" to live or die, etc., and the rejection of the "medical model" in favor of pseudospiritual claptrap) is present in end-of-life care. My biggest fear is that if it comes my time to receive hospice care I'll end up with 4 self-styled shamans dancing around my bed, a humorless Music Thanatologist at the foot of the bed playing harp music (I hate harp music) and someone telling me over and over that "It's OK to let go." And I will be too weak to sock anyone in the jaw, but they will wonder why my agitation is increasing and redouble their efforts to Heal Me and Give Me Permission. Give me a fentanyl infusion, I will croak between parched lips, and quit with the damn harp music and let me sleep.

  3. An unfortunate juxtaposition of words, for sure.

    Though I agree that palliative care is often much more supportive/humane than medical intervention at the end of life. Calling it death midwifery... is well ... pretty ishy.

    Especially for those who hired midwives to help them usher in life, and ended up with 'death midwives' for the births of their babies.

    This blatantly shows that there really is no restriction on who can use the term 'midwife.'

  4. There are many reasons why I read this blog; one of them is to help me gain insight and possibly understanding when it comes to the birth center in Okemos. Every time I log on I think the previous post is the most difficult issue I have read. This post is so incredibly unbelievable...If you had not linked the sites I would have rather thought it was made up by some disturbed person! Instead, they are out there! As terri c. put is so well, a heck of a lot of money, study time and I am sure, personal growth is required inorder to gain the understanding of human nature. The human mind is not easily understood in the best of times let alone during a tragedy. How in the devil do these women think they can come close to tending to a person in the midst of heart ache....when in fact it was their negligence that was the cause of the heart ache!! As a mom, I think back to when money would have made life easier but seldom wished there was more. Now, my heart aches that I do not have a great deal of money to put this demented group where it needs to be. Shut them down entirely or place the same educational standards and state regulations required by all health care providers!!

  5. I want to clarify for readers that "death midwives" are not all attending births, nor are they attending the deaths of only infants. Some of them are addressing death of adults and loved ones only. It's confusing because of the term "midwife" or "doula" in conjunction with death instead of birth. Many of them are not doing both, but some are, and some have the birth background.

  6. Well, my point is that the people who are calling themselves "death midwives" are NOT qualified palliative caregivers, not that qualified palliative caregivers are using the term midwife. A doctor who is board certified in hospice and palliative care, who follows the literature, participates in continuing education, and attends to the medical and psych-social-spiritual components of end of life care is what I would want, not a self-identified shaman or a Music Thanatologist, for whose techniques there is not a single shred of actual evidence. Now, a REAL shaman, in a culturally appropriate context, that's another story. Presence of such a spiritual leader in a culturally appropriate context could be a huge part of palliative care.

    1. Hi Terri. Is there a particular board that would handle this kind of "certification" or are you referring to a different board that docs would be a part of? Thanks for your excellent insight on this topic.