Death: Let’s talk about it

A cross-cultural panel  at Dying To Know Day explores how different cultures deal with death and grief. Picture: Amy Browne

By JAMAL BEN HADDOU

Death can be a difficult topic to talk about but hundreds of people gathered in Melbourne yesterday to have conversations about dying.

Dying to Know Day, held in Federation Square, allowed people to break the taboo of talking about death.

A range of end of life choices were explored including decisions on funerals, organ donation, advanced care planning, preference of where to die and how a person might want to spend their last days.  

Event organiser Jessie Williams said the purpose of the day was to increase choice awareness and promote death literacy.

“Dying to Know Day brings death out of the closet. Almost everything else has a day so we thought we’d give death a day,” Ms Williams said.

The event has been held since 2013 but this year it had a record turnout of more than 300 people.

“We have a massively ageing population in Australia and it’s really important for people to have a conversation about these things rather than just thinking about them,” Ms Williams said.

The number of Australians who die each year is expected to double over the next two decades as the baby boomer population ages even more, according to a report by the Grattan Institute.

Many Australians who die in hospital have “impersonal, lingering and lonely deaths”, but while 70 per cent of people prefer to die at home only 14 per cent do so, the report found.

Audrey, 66, has severe scoliosis with a bent spine and she is bound by a wheelchair.  

She said she wants to be able to decide whether or not undergo euthanasia – voluntary assisted dying – but the practice is not legal in Australia.

“I don’t want to get to that point of suffering and have no choice of when and how I die. I’ve seen my mother die with cancer and I’ve seen my father die with emphysema and I believe in choice,” Audrey said.

 

“I’d like to have that choice here instead of having to go overseas where its legal.”

Audrey is however able to make decisions on other aspects of her death before she passes away. 

“Information is power and choices open up many possibilities. I’ll make sure that I’ll be able to donate as many organs as I can,” she said.

“I want to make sure I’m not buried. I want to be cremated and have my ashes taken to my favourite beach on the high tide.” 

Euthanasia legislation will be considered in the Victorian Parliament later in the year and could allow for some terminally ill people to request a medically assisted death.

The move comes after the government considered a range of recommendations from an inquiry into end of life choices

Julia Handford (left) is a celebrant who offers “living funerals” for terminally ill people who are still alive. Picture: Amy Browne