The subject? That thorny taboo, and the only ever true guarantee any of us will ever have: death.
Conversations around death and dying are always fraught and most of us will avoid them until it’s impossible to do so.
But whether you put it down to a cultural thing, or a product of our age, one group of doctors say the way we conceive of and talk about death is in need of a change.
The Australian Medical Associaton of Queensland (AMAQ) is calling for more education around death and dying, and they want the discussion to start in our schools.
AMAQ has proposed an addition to the Australian curriculum to help young people cope with loss and demystify the end of life.
English, maths and the odd unit on death? Dr Richard Kidd says it shouldn’t sound as outlandish as it might.
The chair of general practice says his members have seen too many tragic incidences where young people were left to contend with the consequences of a death with little in the way of preparation.
“They had a double whammy,” he says.
“They weren’t at all prepared for death, and also, and maybe more importantly, they weren’t prepared for the obligations that went with being the executor of their parents’ estate, or their big brother’s estate, whoever it was,” he says.
“These things have very deep effects on survivors, and we know that if people have some measure of preparation it can help minimise the trauma and dysfunction that can result.”
The association says death education can begin as early as pre-school, introducing the concept that dying is a part of life and building awareness and familiarity with the process in the younger grades.
Once children reach the senior grades, Kidd says they would start to look at the “legal and financial” aspects to death, which would necessarily involve confronting their own mortality.
“We’ve seen sad cases of young men getting terrible injuries playing sport and it would have helped their families and doctors enormously if they knew how they wanted to be cared for in their last days,” he explains.
The association says the need for better education around the issue is underscored by the country’s rapidly ageing population.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of people over 65 has increased from 12 per cent to 15.3 per cent in the decade from 1996, with that trend set to increase as the baby boomer generation ages.
This will inevitably put the onus on younger generations to make arrangements for end-of-life care such as advanced care plans, the AMAQ says.
Ultimately, however, Kidd says that the association is out to start a broader and more realistic conversation around death.
“...it’s not only the children and young adults that haven’t been well-prepared,” he says.
“They haven’t been well-prepared because the parents and grandparents haven’t done anything to prepare them either.
“Death has been a taboo subject for older generations. Through the children going home and talking about it, maybe we can get some of these discussions happening in the family, too, and get everyone on board with the idea that this is actually a very sensible thing to be prepared for in the future.”
AMAQ first floated the idea of death education in May, but Kidd says support from the school community has been lacking.
“At the moment I think we’re feeling a bit like the prophet that’s not so well recognised in their own country,” he says.
The association is asking for input from school leaders to help develop a strategy going forward that is equal parts sensitive and effective.
“We see this as a natural collaboration between health professionals and education in terms of curriculum,” he says.
“But it needs to be approached in a way that has the touchstones of a normal process; this is something that’s going to happen to everyone and it’s best to be prepared for it, rather than getting worried about it or anxious about it or not wanting to talk about it.”