Students, faculty, staff, and members of the Brunswick community gathered on March 28 and 29 to discuss end-of-life care in a symposium organized by Alex Doering ’14.

The weekend event featured seven hour-long lectures from Bowdoin professors and representatives from CHANS Hospice, the Maine Hospice Council, and Mid Coast Hospital. Actress Megan Cole was the keynote speaker. For the symposium, she performed a solo reading of the Pulitzer-winning play “WIT,” which is about a woman dying of ovarian cancer.

Admission to all events was free.

Doering first got interested in the topic of end-of-life care through his involvement with CHANS Hospice in Brunswick, where he has volunteered for almost two years. At CHANS, Doering was able to gain insight into aspects of patient care.

“In America—sometimes because we’re afraid of talking about death—there are lots of issues surrounding that kind of care,” said Doering.  “Previous to hospice, I had not conceived of situations in which focusing on comfort care and emotional, spiritual, existential needs of the patient would be more important than curing the patient, and after hospice I could much more easily see how that would be an important thing to cover.”

Inspired by his work at the hospice, Doering began to examine end-of-life care for assignments in some of his courses at Bowdoin. In a gay and lesbian studies course, Doering looked at how LGBTQ patients are treated relative to other patients at the end of their lives. For Introduction to Narrative, he compared the Epic of Gilgamesh to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s model of the five stages of grief experienced by people confronting imminent death.

Through these studies, Doering considered the importance of thinking about end-of-life care from a liberal arts perspective. He decided to plan the symposium after a mentor of his, Suzana Makowski ’90, proposed the idea. Makowski is co-chief of the Palliative Medicine Division at UMass Memorial Medical Center and the person who piqued Doering’s interest in hospice work.

Overall, Doering said he was pleased with the turnout. The most popular event was Megan Cole’s performance, which drew roughly 75 people. The Ethics and the End of Life lecture about physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia given by Professor of Philosophy Matthew Stuart was the second most widely attended event.

“What was more important than numbers was getting people who were enthusiastic and really engaged with the material because those are the kinds of people who are going to go out and talk about the issues with other people,” said Doering. “I think we got those kinds of people coming to the event.”

Doering said he hopes that the symposium helped attendees appreciate the importance of discussing the difficult or taboo subjects that accompany the end of a person’s life. People are often left in pain, without savings, or in a hospital rather than in their home at the end of life.

“It’s important to have in the back of our minds that these are issues that really do matter to people at the end of their life,” he said.