In Singapore, hospices tend to have a negative image due to the society’s certain beliefs and avoidance on the topic of death. Despite hospices’ skillful and compassionate efforts to care for end-of-life patients, its services are not regarded as integral in Singapore’s healthcare system, and are commonly shunned by families as an option to care for their loved ones.
In collaboration with the Lien Foundation, healthcare specialist design consultancy, Fuelfor, embarked on a nine-month long research project with Assisi Hospice, Dover Park Hospice and St Joseph’s Home and Hospice to find out how the hospice experience can be delivered differently.
Ageless Voice chats with Laszlo Herczeg from the Fuelfor team, on his findings:
Can you share how you embarked on this project?
I was representing Fuelfor to give a public talk about design thinking in the area of radiation therapy, when the CEO of Lien Foundation, Lee Poh Wah, approached me afterwards. He was intrigued by how our team carefully considers the experiences of the healthcare staff, doctor, patient and family when designing an overall better healthcare service. He felt that the growing demands of an ageing population in Singapore makes it necessary to relook at the issues within the current hospice care model and evolve fresh perspectives for future hospices.
As a healthcare design company, it is also interesting for us to delve into the topic of end-of-life. This is because we are always striving and designing for improved life and living, but we have never actually looked at the topic of death and dying. Now coming to think of it, death and dying is always in the backdrop of what we do.
What perceptions does Singaporeans and healthcare staff have towards hospice care and end-of-life matters?
The topic of death and dying is taboo in Singapore society. Singaporeans shun discussing about death, looking at funerals, visiting the hospice, or anything linked to death and dying.
Being a multi-faith country, Singapore has different religions that practise their own rituals and hold certain beliefs about death. For the Chinese in the 1960s, ‘death houses’ were known as a place where the dying sought comfort care. Today, the older generations harbour resistance towards death houses and view today’s hospice as their equivalent. Hence, the superstition that hospices and funerals bring ‘bad luck’ and are things not to be associated with, have been passed onto the younger generation today. Such superstitions foster further ignorance towards the issues of end-of-life and the role of hospices in society. Even healthcare professionals can be affected by the depressing perception around hospice because it influences how they may consider working there.
Singapore is also a ‘vocally conservative’ society where people do not easily open up about their personal or sensitive problems. So there is stigma placed upon people who receive any form of therapy, because accepting help means they are somehow a ‘failure’ in society. Receiving therapy has been regarded as something to be ashamed of.