Plea for Australians to plan for death

Hannah Ryan
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Australians should talk more about death and dying so they can plan for the final stage of their lives, a group of experts is warning.

A lack of acceptance, communication and planning means that many Australian’s preferences about the end of their lives are not understood or championed, they say.

The topic of death makes people in Australia uncomfortable, says Professor Ken Hillman, an intensive care expert at the University of New South Wales.

Although the majority of deaths in Australia each year are predictable, few people – just 15 per cent – have care plans to guide their final days. Seventy per cent of Australians prefer to die at home or in a home-like setting, but only 14 per cent do so currently.

Death and dying are “highly medicalised”, with health professionals focusing on their own priorities over those of the patient, which usually include preservation of dignity, company, and a peaceful, pain-free death, according Professor Hillman.

Professor Hillman is a member of The Violet Initiative, a social enterprise working to reduce regretful outcome for people in the last stages of their lives.

The Violet Initiative’s CEO, Melissa Reader, says caregivers are often the key decision makers.

“A ‘good’ last stage of life would involve many more Australians having more compassionate and dignified deaths, with their preferences aligned with their experiences,” Ms Reader said.

“Families and their caregivers would be offered relief, feel more resilient while going through this difficult experience, and in turn, would be able to return to life and work more fully.”

The group is calling for systemic change in the healthcare, community and aged care sectors to improve planning and encourage communication around the final life stage.

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