IAHPC Book Reviews

2016; Volume 17, No 12, December

IAHPC Book Reviews

By Dr. Roger Woodruff, IAHPC Reviews Editor

Palliative Care Book of the Month


Stories from a Cancer Ward
Johannes Klabbers
Scribe Publications, 2016
248 pp
ISBN (AU) 978-1-92532147 (UK) 978-1-925228625
RRP AU$29.99 £12.99
Available from Fishpond.com.au

From the blurb and the Author’s Note, it seems that Klabbers was born in Holland and raised in London, where it is said he shared the stage with legendary bands during the heyday of punk (about which, of course, I am an expert!). Then in his twenties, he migrated to Australia, achieved a PhD in art, and became an academic. Years later, in his fifties, he dabbled with reality therapy and then chucked in the whole academic thing and came to Melbourne and worked full time for a year as an unpaid pastoral care intern at a major cancer hospital. He now describes himself as ‘a posthumanist therapist, talking with people about how to have a life and what it means to die.’

This book is a memoir of that intern year. As far as clinical skills are concerned, it sounds as though the learning curve was fairly steep. Klabbers describes the patients and families who crossed his path, the lessons, the mistakes, as well as learning the value of just listening or just being there for someone. As his experience grows, he is able to see that he is making a difference. What makes his achievements in the realm of pastoral care something special is that he himself is an atheist. I have always thought of ‘spirituality’ as encompassing both the religious and the secular, but Klabbers has a problem with that and doesn’t use the term. However, what he demonstrates is that a pastoral care worker, even one who is an atheist, should be able to work with and help anyone, regardless of their faith or lack of faith.

I enjoyed reading his clinical stories, together with his interpretation of what they meant, both to him and for the patients. If you work in palliative care, I think you will enjoy reading this and there is plenty about which to reflect and think. Most importantly, it underlines the secular component of spirituality and pastoral care.

Other review


Research, Ethics, and Palliative Care
Rehmann-Sutter, Gudat and Ohnsorge (eds)
Oxford University Press, 2015
264 pp
ISBN 978-0-19-871398-2
RRP £28.50 $US49.95.

This book is about terminally ill patients’ wishes that do not just cover the circumstances of their death, but include the wish for death to come. There is an emphasis towards the psychosocial and ethical aspects of care.

The first part of the book explores the state of empirical psychosocial research on wishes to die. Included here is the 2004 paper by Nessa Coyle and Lois Sculco on expressed desire for hastened death; a new afterword by Nessa Coyle provides interesting insight into the changes that have occurred (and are continuing) in palliative care practice over the last ten years. The second part provides four different perspectives on the ethics of practically responding to wishes to die. In the third section, practical issues are discussed as they are encountered in palliative care for patients at the end of life who express wishes to die.

If you want to know more about the genesis of wishes to die, and some guidance as to how we might best deal with them, both as individual healthcare practitioners and as a society, then you will find this book of interest.

Roger Woodruff, November 2016.

Roger Woodruff, MD (Australia)
Dr. Woodruff is a Lifetime Member of the IAHPC Board and Past Chair. His bio may be found here.

Note for authors and publishers: If you wish to have your book reviewed, please send to:

Dr Roger Woodruff
IAHPC Bookshop Editor
210 Burgundy St, Suite 9
Heidelberg, Victoria 3084

Note: Review copies become property of IAHPC and are not returned to the author. Only palliative care related books, which are previously approved, and which have an ISBN, will be reviewed. Due to the large number of requests, we can’t provide exact dates of when books will be reviewed.

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