The film

AFTER CICELY explores the meaning of modern hospice and palliative care through the eyes of
five inspiring women in Asia. Following the efforts of Cicely Saunders, these women have braved adversity with tenacity and heart to lighten the suffering of patients and help them die a good
death. This is a visual journal of how they pave final journeys with empathy,
dedication and love.

In line with Lien Foundation’s Life Before Death initiative and International Women’s Day,
After Cicely celebrates their indomitable spirit.


Media Coverage

Press Release

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Cicely Saunders

British physician Cicely Saunders, (1918 – 2005) who founded the modern hospice movement and emphasized the need for palliative care, was one of the first individuals who helped lift the bleakness of death for the dying and terminally ill.

Her multidisciplinary experience as a nurse, social worker and physician in the late 1940s gave birth to the hospice movement. It spread to the U.S. and other countries, alongside the new field of palliative medicine.

Saunders was first to coin the term “total pain”, which takes into account the physical, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual elements of suffering. This allows for an understanding of the experience of suffering in a multifaceted way and how it relates to an individual’s physical problems.

In 1967, she established St Christopher’s Hospice in London as a teaching and research facility. It was based on the principles of combining teaching and clinical research alongside expert pain relief with holistic care to meet the various needs of its patients, their family and friends.
She died of cancer at the age of 87 in 2005, at the very same hospice she founded.

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Palliative care in Asia

Asia is growing old, fast. Demand for end-of-life care is already on the rise, driven by ageing populations in countries like China, Singapore and Japan. Yet dying well is still considered a privilege in many societies, where millions suffer unnecessarily from unbearable pain and other debilitating symptoms that they lose the will to live.

Although palliative care was conceived and shaped into a professional discipline in the west by Cicely Saunders and her contemporaries, a growing number of Asian advocates have strived in the last 30 years to improve the quality of end-of-life care.

This effort is ongoing despite limited access to morphine, which is the essential drug used in treating pain, redundant bureaucracy and cultural taboos that impede social discourse and awareness of palliative care.

Back in the 1980s, palliative care was first introduced through the provision of palliative care services in more developed nations like Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Today, while such cities have advanced to various degrees, access to palliative care in other countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh is in its infancy.

Described as the “neglected child” of the healthcare ecosystem, it often receives low priority from policy makers and professionals who struggle to manage modest budgets and inadequate infrastructure. This has led to a growing handful of dedicated charities and healthcare workers who champion the enormous task of providing treatment for those in pain.

Despite the complexities involved, the outlook for palliative care in Asia is positive.
The Asia Pacific Hospice Palliative Care Network provides a platform where practitioners in the region can connect through various programmes like specialist courses and clinical mentorship, where interdisciplinary teams exchange knowledge and build camaraderie.

Working in tandem with growing interest on the ground, research groups like the Lien Centre for Palliative Care develop projects that study various aspects of the palliative care paradigm to shape policies for the better.

As more people join in the social conversation on a good death and governments respond through supportive measures, it is only a matter of time till more in Asia will be spared the agony of unnecessary suffering.

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The Five

  • Mrs Salma Choudhury

    Founder of ASHIC Foundation

    Mrs Choudhury started the ASHIC Foundation in 1994 after the loss of her beloved son Ashiq to a rare form of cancer when he was just three years old. During Ashiq’s yearlong treatment in a hospital in London, she experienced medical and community support to help the plight of cancer-affected children and their families, which were lacking in her own country.
    Deeply inspired by these charities, Mrs Choudhury wanted to make a difference in the field of childhood cancer in Bangladesh. The ASHIC Foundation funds a 20-bed shelter, which accommodates children and their families from rural Bangladesh who travel to Dhaka for cancer treatment. In 2006, it started a Palliative Care Unit, which currently has nine beds for terminally ill children.

  • Dr Odontuya Davaasuren

    President of Mongolian Palliative Care Society
    Professor & Dean, General Practice and Preventive Medicine Department of Health Sciences,
    University of Mongolia

    Dr Odontuya is known among industry practitioners as the 'Mother of Palliative Care' in Mongolia. She introduced the concept of palliative care in Mongolia in 2000 and spearheaded the development of palliative care policies, education and drug availability, starting with palliative care for cancer patients. Thanks to her efforts, each of Mongolia's 21 provinces now has an educated oncologist on palliative care, able to provide free morphine to patients needing it. Palliative care is also included in the syllabus of medical universities in the country. Her dream is to establish a national palliative centre complete with inpatient, outpatient and homecare services, as well as an
    educational hub.

  • Dr Thuy Bui Thi Bich

    Head of Infectious Diseases Department
    Haiphong Medical University

    Dr Thuy has been working in the field of infectious diseases for 30 years and specializes in HIV medicine. In 2003, she was introduced to the concept of palliative care while attending a HIV training course held by Harvard Medical School faculty. She became more passionate about the subject and equipped herself with additional knowledge and skills, while travelling around Vietnam to train other medical and social personnel in palliative care. She also developed an e-learning platform for palliative care at Hai Phong Medical University, In 2011, Dr Thuy saw the birth of a Palliative Care Unit at the Vietnamese – Czech General Hospital for people living with HIV and AIDS, where she tends to patients and conducts training.

  • Professor Chantal Chao Co-Shi

    School of Nursing, College of Medicine at the National Cheng-Kung University in Tainan
    Director and Co-founder of the Catholic Kang-Tai Hospice in Taipei

    Then a nurse at the National Taiwan University Hospital and Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Prof Chao became interested in hospice work and palliative medicine after witnessing eight of her terminally-ill patients commit suicide because no one was able to alleviate their suffering. As “hospice” was a term unheard of in the 1980s and nursing schools were not equipped to educate students on subjects like patients’ psychology and care for the dying, Prof Chao moved to London at the age of 40. She benefitted directly from the teachings of Cicely Saunders, pioneer of the hospice movement and spent many summers studying at the renowned St. Christopher’s hospice. Upon her return to Taiwan in 1993,
    Prof Chao dedicated herself to the promotion of palliative care nursing, pushed for the development of palliative care units in hospitals and helped establish the
    Taiwan Association of Hospice Palliative Nursing.

  • Sister Geraldine Tan

    St Joseph’s Home & Hospice

    Since the age of five, Sister Geraldine knew she wanted to be a nurse. Her motivation sprang from a trip to the clinic where she accompanied her grandmother for an injection and saw the pained and frightful expression on her face. That started her journey into the nursing profession. Sister Geraldine joined St Joseph’s Home & Hospice in 1985, just as the Home established a palliative care unit to meet a pressing need and care for patients with advanced illnesses. An active member in the hospice and palliative care community,
    Sister Geraldine has spoken widely to help promote awareness about end-of-life issues.
    She worked with Lien Foundation to roll out the “Happy Coffins” project at St Joseph’s, where residents at the Home designed their coffins and shared their pre-departure wishes.

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  • Commissioned by
  • Directed & Produced by
    • Logue
    • Jean Qingwen Loo & Huiwen Yang
  • Directors of Photography
    • Ong Boon Kok
    • Poh Yan Zhao
  • Editor
  • Photo Stories
    • Jean Qingwen Loo
  • Graphic Design
  • Website
  • Publicity & Outreach
    • Qeren
    • Genevieve Kuek & May Tan
    • Logue
  • Acknowledgements
    • Dr Cynthia Goh
    • Dr Eric L. Krekauer
    • Dr Pham Van Anh
    • Diane Wong
    • Yue Cheng Yoon & family


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