While birth and marriage are discussed and dissected to the point of fetishisation, the final, inevitable life event gets much less airtime. We just try to avoid it for as long as possible. As our societies take us further and further away from the physical reality of death, a lucky majority haven't even seen a dead body or had a loved one die until we are well into adulthood. But with this death taboo harder and harder to break, we have given away our right to a good death. While we want to die peacefully at home, surrounded by those we love, we die in hospitals alone, tethered to the machines of heroic medicine. And as our health systems groan under rising costs, preventive medicine is sacrificed to end of life interventions that only prolong the inevitable and could be seen as torture if applied to any but the dying. Even if it seems too late to fix death gone wrong, we owe it to our future selves to try.
Chair: Bianca Nogrady is a freelance science journalist, broadcaster, and author. Her latest book, The End: The Human Experience of Death, explores the concept of death along a variety of historical, medical, and spiritual dimensions.
David Celermajer is the Scandrett Professor of Cardiology at the University of Sydney and Director of Echocardiography in the Cardiology Department at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Since 2006 he has been a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.
Peter Saul is a senior specialist in intensive care at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, and Director of Intensive Care at Newcastle Private Hospital. He has been involved in the writing of all current NSW guidelines on end of life care, and his TEDx talk, ‘Let’s talk about dying,’ has been watched over 400,000 times.