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Plea For Australians To Plan For Death

A reluctance to talk about death means many Australians don’t finish their lives in the way they want, a group of experts says.

CANBERRA, Australia — Australians should talk more about death and dying, so they can plan for the final stage of their lives, a group of experts is a 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 most deaths in Australia each year are predictable, few people — just 15 percent — have care plans to guide their final days. Seventy percent of Australians prefer to die at home or in a home-like setting, but only 14 percent do so currently.

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

Professor Hillman is a member of The Violet Initiative, a social enterprise working to reduce regretful outcomes for people in the last stages of their lives. Violet is a social enterprise that positively impacts the last stage of life so that more Australians are better prepared to die well.

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

The topic of death makes people in Australia uncomfortable, says Professor Ken Hillman, an intensive care expert at the University of New South Wales. (Kelly Barnes/AAP Image)

“A ‘good’ last stage of life would involve many more Australians having more compassionate and dignified deaths, with their preferences aligned with their experiences,” 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 calls for systemic change in the healthcare, community, and aged care sectors to improve planning and encourage communication around the final life stage.

There were 169,301 registered and received deaths in Australia in 2019, an increase of 6.8 percent (10,808) from 2018. For deaths registered and received in 2019, 52.2 percent of deaths were male (88,346) and 47.8 percent of deaths were female (80,955).

The median age at death was 81.7 years (78.8 for males, 84.8 for females). The top five leading causes accounted for more than one-third of all registered deaths.

(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Ritaban Misra)