Death and dignity through fresh eyes

Phillips, M., Pilkington, R., Patterson, A. and Hennessy, M. (2011) Death and dignity through fresh eyes. Clinical Teacher, 8 (4). pp. 241-244. ISSN 17434971 (ISSN)


Background: Trinity College Dublin remains one of the Medical Schools that uses traditional dissection to teach anatomy, exposing students from the first week of entry to cadavers. This early exposure makes it imperative that issues surrounding death and donor remains are explored early on within the main structure of the curriculum. Context: The School of Medicine began a programme of Medical Humanities student-selected modules (SSMs) in 2010, and the opportunity to offer a module on medical ethics regarding death and dignity was taken. Innovation: A course was devised that touched only lightly on subjects such as palliative care and the concept of a good death. The course focused much more strongly on the reality of death as part of cultural and societal identity and placement. This was facilitated by field trips to settings where discussions regarding death, dying and dignity were commonplace and authentic experiences, rather than classroom discussions based on theoretical circumstances that may not yet have been experienced by the student. Implications: The module ran very well, with students feeling that they had had a chance to think critically about the role of death as an event with significance within society and culture, rather than purely in a medico-legal framework. Options to extend the module to the compulsory element of the course, to be built upon in later years looking at more technical aspects surrounding death, are being explored. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2011.

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