End-of-Life Issues

On August 3, 2003, the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life held a seminar entitled "Complex Issues in End-of-Life Care." This seminar, part of the long-standing Brandeis Seminars in the Humanities and the Professions program, was organized in collaboration with the Smith College School for Social Work's Center for Innovative Practice. It attracted almost 20 participants, from the Western Massachusetts region, from New York and New Jersey, and even from the state of Minnesota.

The general goal of this seminar was to provide social workers with a fresh look at end-of-life care and decision-making, enabling them to recognize different professional and human issues in end-of-life care and to examine more critically the day-to-day decisions with which they may be confronted. The seminar sought to accomplish this through the "two-text" method of group discussions of fiction and other literature and of the professional experiences and insights brought to these discussions by the participants.

In particular, the goals of this seminar were: 1) to examine complex ethical issues in end-of-life care as they emerge in literary texts and in professional practice, 2) to examine the intersection between the personal and the professional in end-of-life care, 3) to examine complex existential and spiritual issues in end-of-life care, 4) to consider institutional and societal contexts in which dying is embedded, 5) to consider cross-cultural and cross racial issues in end-of-life care, and 6) to examine the uses of self in end-of-life care.

This seminar marks the third in a series devoted to end-of-life issues.

The first, held in June 2002, was designed for members of the judiciary who regularly come into contact with people at this critical moment of their lives or their family members. Entitled "Ethics and Law in End-of-Life Care," this seminar represented a collaboration with the Massachusetts Judicial Institute.

The second seminar, held in October 2002, was designed for members of the Massachusetts Compassionate Care Coalition, a cross-sectoral organization devoted to bringing about positive change in end-of-life care. It was entitled "Ethics and the Health Professions in End-of-Life Care."

In holding these seminars, Brandeis hopes to contribute to the use of literature as a tool for teaching and training, to enrich the general public discourse about end-of-life care, and to disseminate knowledge and promote reflection about ethics and the personal and institutional issues that affect end-of-life care.