On January 17, 2013, Professor RajataRajatanavin, President of Mahidol University,
presided over a seminar entitled Hospice and Grief Counseling
for Love Ones of Terminally Illed Patients.
This seminar is a preparation for the establishment of the Center
for Comprehensive Care of the Elderly and Hospice.
The center will be constructed on a 100 rais donated piece of land in HuaHin.
It will be the first facility of its kind in Thailand.
Thailand is rapidly becoming an aging society. Despite advances in medical science,
an increasing number of patients become terminally ill from chronic diseases
such as cancers, kidney diseases, heart diseases, and AIDS.
Many of these patients suffer from aggressive treatments
that often do not respect their dignity nor improve their quality of life.
A concept of Hospice and Palliative Care has therefore been introduced
as an alternative for caring of these patients.
Rather than focusing on prolonging life, hospice aims to optimize the peace
and comfort during the final stage of life and to prepare patients
and their loved ones for death with respect and dignity.
Since hospice is not yet a familiar concept in Thai society,
Mahidol University invited leaders in the field to share knowledge
and experience in this seminar. The panelists included PraPaponpatJiradhammo
(abbot of WatKhumpramong), Dr. SriveingPirojkul (Srinagarind Hospital,
KhonKaen University), KhunPetchladaSeangjitsiriroj (BudNet) and Marion Wilson-Gruzalski.
PraPaponpatJiradhammo founded ArokayasaneWatKkhumpramong or Cancer Hospice Center.
He shared the experiences of caring for 3000 – 4000 patients over the past 8 years,
which involve a very hard work. The center uses herbal medicines
whose effectiveness has been supported by research evidences.
The center is a nonprofit organization offering free-of-charge care.
So far the temple spent over 100 millions baths using donation from generous
and faithful public. There is a network of social workers
and volunteers from within and outside Thailand who offer their time
and services to the center. The abbot added that
"the hospice work must be heart-to-heart not money-to-money.
Every effort must start with faith. Once the public understands the intention
and sees the work, everything will fall into place."
Dr. SriveingPirojkul explained that Thailand has advance medical technology.
However, there is a wide knowledge gap in the care of terminally ill patients.
Most medical curriculum does not include training in hospice or palliative care.
Most physicians and nurses do not feel competent in caring for dying patients.
Few health workers truly understand the factors required for proper health care
at the final stage of life. Furthermore, hospice
and palliative care are not currently covered by the universal coverage scheme.
She suggested that the first priority is to advocate for hospice care
as an essential component of the health system. Training is crucial to ensure
that the human resource for health at every level acquires proper understanding
of the care for dying patients.
KhunPetchladaSeangjitsiriroj stated that volunteers are important components
in hospice care. Every volunteers, be it students, nurses, general public,
or monks, need to understand the importance of active listening.
Most people believed that caring for the dying is about teaching
and giving advices. However, it is essential to realize that different people
have different needs. One must carefully listen first
to understand true patient's needs.
Only then can one provide the optimal care at the right timing.
Marion Wilson-Gruzalski lost two young daughters.
Her son also died at the age of 15 from gas explosion.
She said that death is the greatest teacher.
The Buddha sees aging, sickness and death as a natural shared experiences
by all being. She personally understands death to be a door to heaven.
When she asked herself, what is the meaning of life,
she discovered that death holds the ultimate truth. Several years later,
she realized that the Buddha nature is to be here and now. This is dhamma.
Working with dying patients awakens the realization
that the essence of life is to live in the present moment.