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B.C. group says death midwives' philosophy similar to that of birth midwives

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July 14, 2016 - 7:00 AM

VANCOUVER - So-called death midwives provide the dying and their families with a wide range of services similar to birth midwives so the term should not be legally challenged by organizations that govern maternity care, says a spokeswoman for a British Columbia group.

"We do not want to be in a battle with the birth midwives," said Pashta MaryMoon of the Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives.

"We have tried so hard to limit the use of the term death midwives whereas other people use the term more loosely."

The College of Midwives of British Columbia has issued a cease and desist letter to the network, saying the word midwife is a protected title for registered members who must meet certain standards in providing maternity care.

MaryMoon said death midwives provide a variety of services to "death journeyers" and their families, including emotional, social and spiritual support and helping to write a legacy or decide who they'd like to be there as they're dying.

She said the range of services is similar to those provided by a birth midwife who supports a woman through pregnancy, delivery and for several months afterwards.

"We use the term death midwife when we're talking about a philosophy," she said. "We definitely have a lot of similarity with the birth midwife philosophy. There's the whole approach of the mother or the family are the people who are actually in charge, not the hospital staff. The birth happens, or the death happens, at home, if at all possible."

The Winnipeg-based Canadian Midwifery Regulators Council — a network of provincial and territorial regulatory authorities — also sent a letter to MaryMoon's group last week asking that it make no further use of the term death midwife.

"Our research confirms that Canadian courts are very willing to uphold the integrity of protected professional titles," said the letter, signed by Kristine Robinson, chairwoman of the council.

MaryMoon contacted the council on Tuesday, Robinson said in an interview, though MaryMoon said she had not yet contacted the College of Midwives of B.C.

"I'm hoping we can have a conversation and clear it up relatively quickly," Robinson said of the council, which supports the 10 provinces and territories where midwifery is regulated.

The term death midwifery is increasingly being used across the country, but the British Columbia group is the first to be contacted by the national council, Robinson said.

Kelly Dobbin, registrar of the College of Midwives of Ontario, said a member of the public notified them earlier this month about a woman calling herself a death midwife on her website.

The college contacted the woman, who complied with its request to stop using the title and instead referred to herself as a facilitator providing death and grief services, Dobbin said.

"Had she not stopped, then we certainly would have had a different conversation and issued a cease and desist letter and then considered our options through the judicial system that we have available to us," she said of the 800-member college, the largest in Canada and the first to be regulated in 1994.

Dobbin said she has no problem with anyone providing support to the dying or their families, but using the title midwife causes confusion among the public.

"The movement sounds beautiful and I would obviously support individuals in offering those services and supporting families and communities in that way."

MaryMoon said her non-profit network that is run by volunteers can't afford a legal fight and that she's looking for the "right" lawyer to look into legislation governing midwives, but at little or no charge.

She said birth midwives may simply be feeling threatened after years of trying to establish their right to practise and that she hasn't met anyone who was confused about the meaning of death midwifery versus birth midwifery.

"It hasn't been that long since they have actually had stable credibility in their culture," MaryMoon said. "You feel like you sort of have to protect your turf."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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