Is it possible to have a good death?

From ABC Health and Wellbeing, 17 September 2013:

Talk to people about the kind of death people want to avoid and almost everyone has a story to share. It may be of a grandfather diminished and ridiculed by dementia until he is incontinent, incoherent, and bed-bound; or a young friend wracked with the agony of cancer that no amount of morphine can relieve.

If there is such a thing as a bad death, it stands to reason that a good death is also possible. But what makes a good death, and how can it be achieved?

It’s a difficult concept to define, says palliative care physician Dr Christopher Gault.

‘After 20 years, I have not the vaguest concept of what a good death is,’ he says. ‘The idea of a good death has connotations beyond being peaceful.’

In 1999, the authors of UK report The Future of Health and Care of Older People came up with a list of principles outlining a good death. They included knowing when death is coming and what to expect, the ability to retain control of what happened, to be afforded dignity and privacy, to have access to hospice care, and to have control over who is present and shares that final experience.

Retired US surgeon and author Dr Bernie Siegel believes that last principle to be especially important.

‘When people say, “My brother died,” I ask, “What time of day did he die, who was with him when he died?”‘ Siegel says. “If they say he died at two in the morning alone, I’d say that is not a good death. But if they say he died at two in the afternoon with the family sitting around him, I’d say he was okay… he has not failed anyone and he felt secure in that dying, that you all knew it was the right thing for him.” Read more. 

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