Life, death… Shouldn’t we talk about it with students? Issues arising from the creation of an online platform for the French medical and school staff
Death and mourning remain invisible issues within the French school system, whereas multiple studies and field experience reveal the prevalence of situations where teachers and school doctors are expected to take care of complex situations. These actors tend to feel vulnerable and lack concrete tools to open free discussion with students. The needs are important given how recent terrorist attacks in France and the current pandemic have profoundly affected students’ mental health. Offering spaces to openly discuss these deeply emotional issues appears essential to prevent psychosocial and pathological risks while promoting a pedagogy of finitude.
In a context where medical and psychological knowledge is increasingly being disseminated through the Internet and social media, the French Society for Palliative Care has recently launched an online platform to help the teaching and medical staff and parents to talk more openly with children and teenagers about issues such as the end-of-life, death and mourning. This website offers resources, examples of good practices as well as a list of actors which may support children or teenagers who have a life-limiting illness or who have a bereaved experience, a particular focus is made on young orphans and young carers, two populations emerging as subjects of study.
This presentation aims at introducing this project entitled “La vie, la mort… On en parle ?” (“Life, death… Shouldn’t we talk about it?”), which has required the collaboration of multiple stakeholders from the medical and the education worlds (parent-teacher associations, pediatric palliative care teams, school health associations, end-of-life care volunteers’ organizations, French Ministry for Education, etc.). The following points will in particular be addressed:
• The choice of a website as a medium: our initial bypassing strategy became a deliberate choice which was legitimized by the current COVID-19 crisis ;
• The operational, ethical and epistemological issues which the promotion of a pedagogy of finitude online implies in an institutional context ;
• The successful and participative mobilization offered by such an online platform to enhance the visibility of youngsters confronted with incurable illness, end-of-life and mourning.
Nicolas El Haïk-Wagner is the coordinator of a working group of French Society for Palliative Care dedicated to the diffusion of “palliative care culture” to young generations. He works as an independent researcher for several organizations; his research interests include the social and ethical issues arising from emerging medical technologies as well as from society ageing. Nicolas El Haïk-Wagner holds a Bachelor of Arts, Honours in Anthropology from the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada), and a Master of Arts in social policy from Sciences Po Paris.
Caroline Tête is a documentalist at the French Centre of palliative and end-of-life care. She created a site, VigiPallia, dedicated to documentation (academic literature and pop culture references) on palliative care, end-of-life and bereavement. She works on health promotion of youth, first, on alcohol research projects and then, on projects focused on end-of-life and bereavement. She created a reading committee for highlighting a selection of child books on these topics, available online for parents and healthcare professionals who want to discuss these issues with children and teenagers.
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