Seoul to Soul

New new new..that’s how South Korea seems to me.

Fizzing with energy and young people who are grasping every opportunity that comes their way - to make money, to debate, and especially, to sing! Fab harmonies from the opening night! 




This is a country where life expectancy has rocketed in the last fifty years from an average age of around 50 to around 80. When they learned that Seven Songs for a Long Life was being programmed as part of EIDF, the National University put together a day conference, beautifully entitled: 

“The 3rd Great Discussion Platform After the Promulgation of New Act: Hospice Film Festival: How Hospice will be Publicised -  organised by National Campaign of Making Hospice To the Public and SSK Biopolitics of the Elderly”

What do Korean marriage dolls, card tricks, and young women laughing and crying at the same time all have in common? All could be found at the screening of Seven Songs for a Long Life at EIDF. In one of my most intense post-screening discussions, topics ranged from the comfort of beauty, to the medicalisation of death, to the importance of play, and to how long we are all going to live. It was a young audience; clever, emotionally literate and ready to grow in the courage required to raise the subject of death in conversations at home.

I was whisked away to take part in a round table on hospice care in Korea, which opened with a stunning movie called The Hospice about a provincial hospice in Korea. Beautifully observed by director Chang-Jae Lee, we see  an angry patient pulled away from suicide by a magic trick-wielding chaplain - who also sings. A wife in her fifties says goodbye to her husband and son in her house, with relatives laying flowers one by one in her arms. Her husband cannot stop kissing her. 'I am sorry if I caused you pain or hurt' he says. When she does die, the family's grief at her bedside is unbearable.

Around 200 of us gathered after these films to discuss how to implement the new laws which Korea passed this year to enable palliative care in these times of rapidly extending life expectancy and medical agency. There is discussion about who should be in control of the last months and weeks of life. The bill passes the control to doctors, but the hospice workers argue that patients’ wishes should be prioritised.

As they watch these films, the professors and doctors agree that it is as human beings, not patients, that we can best confront our mortality. In the words of Cicely Saunders, founder of the hospice movement, if we are to make dying "not a defeat, but life's fulfilment", we need all of our humour, our courage, our connections and our love of each other.

I feel privileged to be part of these conversations, and very proud that Seven Songs for a Long Life has been chosen to inspire a legal amendment. From Strathcarron in Scotland, to South Korean’s first bill of palliative care….unexpected, but fabulous!

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