[FOUNTAIN]Dying with dignity

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[FOUNTAIN]Dying with dignity

"How long will I live?" "Is there a way I can die without pain?" Those are frequent questions from terminal cancer patients who frequently find no relief from excruciating suffering. Have you ever considered that what they need more than painkillers or sleeping pills is to be free of the fear of dying? Have you seen the tears and dedication of volunteers who hold the hands of the dying every night to help them go toward a beautiful death? This is the reality that takes place even this very moment at hospices throughout the country.

In the days of the Greek and Roman empires there was a custom to provide shelter and hospitality to weary and sick travelers. Later, there were quarters where the dying could find peace and comfort leading up to the moment of death. In medieval Europe, hospices welcomed the needy who had led lives of excruciating discomfort.

The word hospice has its origin in the Latin hospitalis. That word combines hospes, or the hosting of guests or travelers, and hospitale, which were large houses or inns, a word that eventually led to the English word "hospital." Hospitalis is also believed to have originated from hospitium, a place where a guest received hospitality or care.

Catholic nuns working to help the sick in 17th century Europe began close observations of the pain endured by terminally ill patients and set up a systematic way of managing the suffering. The nuns' work led to various branches in nursing and social work that tried to help patients through means other than medication. This was the origin of the hospice movement that has now become a professional practice in the United States and Canada.

In this part of the world, Calvary Hospice in Gangneung, Gangwon province, opened in 1965 and has since become a leader in the care field. The movement of helping terminal cancer patients close their lives in humane ways has grown to become a national network of hospices and the volunteers who contribute their time there.

Korea has more than 100,000 terminal cancer patients, and at least 58,000 people die of cancer each year. Recently, the government moved to include hospice stays in national health insurance coverage. The move gave legal recognition to an established practice. We hope the government's concession brings fresh life to the movement of providing emotional help to cancer patients. As human beings, cancer patients deserve to have dignity as they move through the last stages of their lives. What we need to fight is not their deaths, but society's neglect.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Choi Chul-joo

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