Interactive lecture identifies parallels between birth and death

Jan Selliken, associate professor at the Linfield Portland campus, led an interactive discussion about the parallels between birth and death at a March 14 lecture in Riley 201.

After working as a midwife and then starting work with hospice, Selliken started seeing parallels that helped her adjust to the change.

She shared a video that she put together for nursing students to help bridge the “gap in the understanding of patients.”

The video featured Bobbie Ma, a brain tumor patient who was originally told that she would only have three months to live. Bobbie explained in the video that she was not afraid of dying, but that she wanted to die in a
conscious way and was sad that she would be missing out on the life she loved.

Three years later, Bobbie is still alive.

Selliken then displayed a chart that compared end-of-life health care in the year 1900 to care in 2010.

The chart showed that during the past century, the disease and dying trajectory has become more prolonged.

“Technology has made it so we can keep people alive a lot longer,” Selliken said.

In 1900, the average life expectancy was 50 years old. Now, it is 78.5.

Caregivers are now strangers, rather than family members.

Selliken then shared an audio clip featuring Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross, who had given seminars on caring for dying patients.

Selliken shared an incident where Ross walked in front of the audience and began her seminar saying, “When you’re working with dying people, all you need to do is shut up,” and then left the room.

Her point was that there is not much you need to do.

“When babies are born, people turn to mush,” Selliken said.

She explained that this is the same reaction people have when someone is dying.

“[People] move to an unconditional place,” Selliken said.

She then displayed two images, one of a dying person holding a loved one’s hand and one of a baby still in its mother’s womb.

She asked the audience to point out similarities between the two. These similarities included the reliance on someone else, reduced awareness, boundaries of the environment and touch.

Selliken said that the similarity she notices between people who are dying and people waiting to give birth is the common question, “When is it time?”

Selliken stressed that improving care at both the end of life and beginning of life is important.

She then had the audience list the top 10 things they learned that evening.

Susan Whyte, Linfield’s library director, said, “As someone who has given birth and had someone die,” she found the lecture to be quite interesting.

“It is an interesting area to explore, [and] once you do, it makes a lot of sense,” said Justyne Triest, the evening supervisor at the library. “I also thought the ‘shut up’ quote was great.”

Samantha Nixon/
Staff writer
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