Caring for the living and dyingCaring for the Living & Dying

By Dr Michael Barbato


Dr Michael Barbato, 40 years in the field of medicine, with the past half of that time as a Palliative Care specialist, has just had released a new edition of his book, Caring for the Living and Dying.

In his opinion, “Western medicine offers a health care system that is evidence based, outcome orientated, and frequently dominated by technological and pharmacological interventions. It aims to cure and when this is no longer possible it seeks to prolong a person’s physical existence often at the expense of their spiritual and emotional well-being. This biomedical approach with its focus on the ‘fleshy envelope’ falls far short of the mark especially when directed to those who have a life-threatening illness or multi-system disease. Even with these illnesses, death is often considered an adverse event rather than a natural end to life.

“Human suffering is multi-dimensional and often beyond the reach of curative medicine, yet this approach to care remains the dominant paradigm for the majority of people who die within the hospital system, diverting attention away from the hard but real issue of life and death. Timely and appropriate preparation for death is rarely countenanced, leaving little if any time for the ‘patient’ and family to make the necessary journey towards wholeness and inner peace. Hospitals are not good places to die and will remain so until those who provide care reflect on their actions and agendas, and see a person’s death not as the end of their life or as a failure of treatment, but as a profound transitional experience.”

Dr. Barbato arranged my first workshop on ‘A Meditative Approach to Dying’ here in Australia in May of this year (and provided a testimonial about it; See Testimonials on my site). As I discovered at our first meeting and had reaffirmed at the workshop that followed, Michael is an intelligent, compassionate, open man, with a refreshingly straightforward approach to life. These traits are evident in his book.

There is a ton of books and articles out now on various aspects of death and dying, and I’ve barely scratched the surface! Written primarily for carers, Dr. Barbato’s book would also appeal to anyone interested in the subject. That it is based on his experiences here, in Australia makes it particularly attractive to me.  It is comprehensive (chapter titles include: Living with pain; Symptoms other than pain; Day-to-day care; States of consciousness; What happens around the time of death; Care of a child; Care of the elderly), grounded, and compassionate. I appreciate his providing in the Appendix, Palliative Care Associations, a Bibliography and an Index by subjects.

Among the comments the book has garnered is this, from the NSW Society of Palliative Medicine: ‘This is a book that deserves fanfare and promotion…. It is beautifully written with a strong thread of sincerity through it that can only be drawn from years of experience of dealing with people at the ends of their lives.

BTW: Dr. Barbato has written a second book, Reflections of a Setting Sun: Healing Experiences Around Death, which is equally well written.

To purchase his books and/or learn more about Dr Michael Barbato.

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