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Should we teach death in schools?


A proposal from the Queensland branch of the AMA might have schools slotting death lessons into the timetable in between Maths and English.

AMA Queensland Chair of General Practice Dr Richard Kidd says in a rapidly ageing society, educators should be demystifying the processes of ageing and dying.

“Young people need to be educated about medical, legal and other issues that surround ageing and dying so they are capable of making informed choices when the time comes,” Dr Kidd says.

“More than any other generation, they will need to understand advance care plans where their loved ones decide how they want care to be delivered at the end of their lives. Young people also need to know how to make a will.”

Dr Kidd says he has seen cases of young adults getting terrible injuries playing sport, and that it would have been a huge help to families and doctors if they’d known how the loved one had wanted to be cared for in their final days.

“I’ve seen people as young as 21 being thrust into the role of power of attorney,” he says, adding that their lack of knowledge makes for a steep learning curve in how to act in the best interests of their loved ones while remaining within the law.

He says that “death lessons” could incorporate the legal aspects of what mental and physical capacity means, how to draw up a will and an advance care plan, and the biological processes of dying and death.

Knowledge around death and advance care plans could facilitate people dying at home rather than in a hospital, Dr Kidd says. Although the vast majority of people say that they would prefer to die at home, only 15% do, he notes.

“Many more people could die at home if there had only been a bit of preparation,” he adds.

He says that in many families, death is a taboo subject that only gets discussed once it’s too late.

The proposal has been put to the Queensland  government and has got backing from Palliative Care Queensland, whose CEO Shyla Mills says learning about death at school would make young people more resilient about loss, ageing, dying and grief.

“While there is pressure on educators to add more material into the school curriculum, death is our only 100% guarantee in life and the effects of our ageing population will be felt most by those at school today,” she comments.