“The Good Death”, out on February 16th, is the first book by writer Ann Neumann, a visiting scholar at The Center for Religion and Media at NYU, who has also been a hospice volunteer, tending to the dying as they approach the end of their lives.
Neumann’s exploration of dying has been called “a work of fierce empathy” and “profoundly compassionate”. The book has been informed by her work on a monthly column, “The Patient Body“, which investigates the intersection of religion and medicine, and also by her volunteer work in hospice, which has taken her to prison cells, churches, and hospital beds. Neumann has been writing about this topic, and the intersections of inequality and race, for a number of outlets.
In an op-ed she wrote for the NY Times, Neumann shared the dying wishes of people she sat next to in their last weeks; she also shared the personal experiences that led her to volunteer in hospice.
From the op-ed:
My father was in hospice for three months, half the duration allowed by Medicare. Two years later, I became a volunteer, in part to give back to the program that had carried us through his last months, but also because I was still grieving. I thought that being a volunteer would help me make sense of his death. And it did. Volunteering took away my feelings of helplessness. I couldn’t change the fact that people were dying, but I could make their dying easier.
Neumann has also written on humane death for Guernica, stating that we need to focus on removing socioeconomic barriers to end-of-life care. In an essay that is part film critique (analysing the award-winning documentary, “How to Die in Oregon”) and part social justice thesis, Neumann picks apart the vast inequality people face as they approach their death. Hospices are primarily used by white Americans from the upper socioeconomic classes; minorities are relegated to hospitals in a variety of ways, including lack of funding and lack of outreach.
Studies show that enrollment in hospice makes patients’ last days more comfortable. Hospice care means better pain management, greater comfort because the patient is at home, and better quality of death. Hospitals are dangerous places. Often just getting out of one can improve your chances of living longer. Aggressive treatments that can’t cure a terminal disease (and often only painfully prolong it) put an enormous toll on patients, costing them comfort and even consciousness. Various researchers have shown that those in hospice can even live longer than those in standard hospital care—by as much as two months. There’s a huge disparity, however, between white and nonwhite enrollment in hospice, despite the increasing percentage of elder nonwhites in the US population. The reasons for this disparity are complicated—but they’re also cultural, financial, and systemic.
“The Good Death” is available for preorder and will be published on February 16th: you can buy it at your local book seller or online at a variety of outlets (Indiebound, Powell’s Books, Barnes & Noble, Beacon Press, or Amazon).
What do you think is a good death? Are you planning to read Neumann’s book?