Michal Galazka International Seminar 2020: Reclaiming the Public Understanding of Dying

13th October 2020

Due to the COVID pandemic the annual Michal Galazka International Study Day was not able to take place as planned in 2020.  However the Institute was delighted to welcome author and palliative care consultant Dr Kathryn Mannix to give an online seminar as part of the Michal Galazka International Global Fellowships Programme. 

Dr Mannix has over 30 years experience as a palliative care consultant and has recently campaigned for better public understanding of dying. Her book about the way people live while they are dying, With the End in Mind (William Collins 2017) became a bestseller and was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize in 2019.

In her talk Dr Mannix highlighted how the medicalisation of dying, combined with increasing life expectancy  has meant that within only 1 or 2 generations, public understanding of the dying process has declined rapidly.  Portrayals of dying in films and television give an unrealistic picture of the normal dying process, and euphemisms for dying continue to be used, such as ‘ passing on’ and ‘ gone to a better place’.  Misinformation, media distortion, trivialisation and lack of direct experience can also lead to people distrusting their own direct experience of observing the normal dying process, and not sharing their experience with others in the mistaken belief that it is atypical.  

Dr Mannix emphasised that clear and skilled communication by healthcare professionals is of paramount importance, using phrases such as ‘sick enough to die’ gives patients and families a clear understanding of what might happen, and may give them additional valuable time to live every day as well as possible, while preparing for what might happen.    

When she was a young medical student Dr Mannix met Dame Cicely Saunders and recalled Dr Saunders asking her how she thought she could make a difference to real people, a question that has stayed with her throughout her medical career, along with Dr Saunders’ famous quotation:  “How people die remains in the memories of those who live on”.

The seminar will be made available on the Institute’s YouTube channel.