I got to write a post for the Beacon Broadside on death doulas and their trainers. You can read it here. And here’s a small clip:
By promising to reveal the true meaning of life—once the animating promise of legacy religious denominations—doula trainers charge their adherents for access to magical, terminal patients who will save them from their mundane lives and give their existence meaning. In Secularism in Antebellum America, John Lardas Modern writes that “marks of spirituality—the ethic of authenticity as well as the search for unity and wholeness—are not simply phenomena within religion but discursive effects of secularism (bound up, for example, with ideologies of the market, the triumph of the therapeutic, sentimental individualism, and the progressive telos that accompanies each).”
When looked at from this angle, the popularity and proliferation of death doula training is characterized by the most criticized aspects of today’s self-help, therapeutic culture: it provides those searching for meaning in life to buy experiences (or products) that promise to provide it. This analysis of the movement doesn’t detract from the care and comfort that death doula’s provide their patients; undoubtedly both doulas and patients benefit from kind attention. Also, the doula movement addresses a gross oversight in the current medical care delivery system which fails to meet the needs of ill patients who do not yet qualify for hospice or get the companionship and attention they need from their doctors or family members.