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Bring senses to dying well, says speaker for next Wool seminar

Dr. BJ Miller

Dr. BJ Miller seeks to change the way we die. This preeminent speaker will share his thoughts on maximizing quality of life and minimizing unnecessary suffering at the Ninth Annual Cindy Wool Memorial Seminar on Humanism in Healthcare on Thursday, March 29.

An expert on patient-centered, palliative, and end-of-life care, Miller draws on his professional expertise as a physician and former executive director of Zen Hospice Project as well as on his personal experience as a triple amputee, advocating for cross-discipline design-thinking to bring intention and creativity into the experience of dying.

“As a speaker, BJ fits our goal and purpose perfectly. He is an example of resilience in the face of disability, and as a person is a model for all of us,” says Dr. Steven Wool, husband of the late Cindy Wool, a Tucson native who died in 2008 from complications of leukemia.

The seminars, sponsored by the Maimonides Society of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona in conjunction with the University of Arizona College of Medicine, aim to increase the capacity of healthcare professionals for compassion and empathy and encourage lifelong learning. They address the critical need for humanism through education, discussion and community engagement and reach more people each year, says Wool.

“This year’s seminar is poignant, with the Jan. 23 passing of Dr. Andrew Gold, the initial mentor of the medical humanism movement in America. I am especially proud that we will continue his vision here,” Wool says, noting that Gold was friend of Tucson attorneys Marilyn Einstein and Steve Sim, who were instrumental in creating this series with him and neurologic specialists in the community.

“We have to wake up to the fact that we are mortal,” says Miller. “Denial is a reflex that protects us. Cultural, social, political overlays keep us from facing it. There is a lot of work for all to be done to push back on this subject so we can have the death we want. The goal is to have a death in keeping with who you are as a living person.”

Miller says there’s no way we are prepared for the coming silver tsunami. “We need infrastructure that’s dynamic enough to handle the seismic shifts in our population.” He says “suffering” is what’s scary about dying and proposes loving our time by way of our senses, accessing what makes us feel human. “If we set our sights on wellbeing, life and healthcare can be about making life more wonderful than less horrible. Dying is a necessary part of life — let’s make space for life to play itself out all the way out, in a crescendo until the end.”

Miller also is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco and an attending specialist for the Symptom Management Service at the university’s Helen Diller Comprehensive Cancer Center.

A VIP reception kicks off the seminar at 5:30 p.m. at the UA Student Union, 1330 E. University Blvd. The $108 reserve ticket includes dinner, garage parking and Miller’s keynote address, “One Man’s Quest to Change the Way We Die,” which begins at 7 p.m. Participants can opt for the presentation with coffee and dessert for $18; medical students may attend at no cost. RSVP by March 22 at www.jfsa.org/cindy-wool or call Karen Graham at 577-9393, ext. 8469.

Miller’s TED talk, “What Really Matters at the End of Life,” ranks among the most viewed TED talks with more than 5.5 million views. This will be the topic of a free lecture for the Arizona Health Sciences Center, in the DuVal Auditorium at noon. Box lunches are provided by the Medical Humanities Program. RSVP by March 22 at goo.gl/MJbE4p or contact csapio@medamin.arizona.edu.