Is there such a thing as a good death? 19



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Thinking about the end of our lives is something none of us wants to do, but it’s comforting to think we can be assured of a good death. But is there such a thing?

Last Friday, ABC’s The Drum explored the subject ‘Is there such a thing as a good death?’ including health spending, the pressures presented by a rapidly ageing population, and how our concepts of death fit in the modern world.

One of the most moving tales was by ABC journalist Emma Renwick, whose husband Chris had terminal cancer. Emma decided she wanted Chris to die at home, rather than in a hospice.

“I had to fight unbelievably hard to get him home,” she said.

“It was the wrong day of the week, and the ambulance didn’t come. And while we were waiting for the ambulance they didn’t medicate him because they wanted to wait until the transport arrived, but it took five hours.

“That Friday afternoon tested me beyond where I thought I was capable of functioning. But I got him home.”

She said she had found the hospice stark and uncaring.

“I would have thought it would be a place full of unbelievably caring people and it kind of felt quite different from that,” she said.

Despite Emma and Chris’s experience of that particular palliative care hospice, a new study shows that we’re actually pretty well off in Australia when it comes to palliative care compared to some other countries.

Australia and New Zealand took the second and third spots in the 2015 Quality of Death survey just behind the UK, with the US in ninth position after Ireland, Belgium, Taiwan, Germany and the Netherlands.

This was according to a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, which said people dying in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nigeria and Myanmar could expect the lowest level of care, based on the findings which looked at the quality of hospitals and hospices, staff levels and training and the affordability and quality of care.

The Daily Mail reports the study found a correlation between income levels and acceptable palliative care, although some countries lagged behind where they should be.

Sadly, only half of the 80 countries in the survey provided what the survey classed as “good” end-of-life care.

However, palliative care was rising up the agenda for governments in developing countries due to ageing populations and unhealthy lifestyles which were resulting in chronic conditions like diabetes that would place a tremendous strain on health systems.

But back to the ABC topic: “Is there such a thing as a good death?”

I’d like to think so. I take comfort from the fact that my 92-year-old father had what I thought was a good death in some ways. He died after an accident at home which knocked him unconscious. When he did wake up in hospital for a brief period, his pain was under control through morphine and a 90-year-old friend was there holding his hand telling him how much she loved him.

My father had just started showing signs of dementia and his wish was to “go out” when he had still had a good quality of life.

So I was heartbroken by his death, but glad at the same time. His wish had been granted and he was now peacefully at rest.

What is your experience of death in Australia? Have any of your friends and family had “good” deaths?  What is your vision for a good end?


Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. To me a good death would be passing in my sleep, not just yet though. Passing from no particular thing, just old age.

  2. I would love to die in my sleep but it doesn’t happen like that all the time unfortunately, so all I will ask for is a pain free death, so often we hear and know of people who have died in extreme pain from cancer and other diseases, I hope that is not my fate

  3. My Dad passed in his nursing home. They were so lovely and caring. They formed a guard of honour when his body was removed from the home. Dad was very happy there and I am grateful he died in their care. My Mum died in hospital after a lengthy illness. Again all the staff were very caring. Maybe I was lucky but I have not complaints about the care and compassion that my parents experienced in so called facilities.

  4. My mother in law died in her late 80’s from cancer. She died with all her children around her in a hospice. She had a serene death.

  5. Death is Death there is no way out, I guess a good death is one where you don’t suffer for years prior.

  6. What is my experience of death in Australia? I spent 10 months in my teens watching my father slowly deteriorate and then die from and incurable cancer of the lymph system. In the 53 years since then I have not liked hospitals.

    Have any of my friends and family had “good” deaths? Yes. Both grandfathers died in their sleep. One was 94 and the other was 96.

    What is my vision for a good end? Not being in pain and dying in my sleep. I do have an Advance Directive though. I also found out from one of the nurses while I was in hospital about 3 months ago most of the staff at that hospital have Advance Directives. 😉

  7. The question this begs is “What is a good death” is it an absence of pain and suffering? Is it passing in one’s sleep? Is it having your loved ones near?

    Or could it possibly be reflecting on a life and the actions one has pursued and how they resonated with my basic stance in life and does that reflection leave me with consolation or desolation?

  8. A good death is one when you know you are dying and you are pain free ( on something) and it is dignified and peaceful. You had time to say something to loved ones.

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