The Best Death: How to die well by Sarah Winch

‘Is it possible to die well in Australia? I think so. Being prepared helps and this book shares techniques and information that works .’

How do you go about preparing for the best death possible? Either for yourself, or for someone you love? How do you accept the diagnosis of a terminal illness, and find out what options are available to you? Where do you start? Who can help?

In April 2008, Sarah Winch’s husband Lincoln died from kidney cancer. He had been diagnosed four months earlier. Lincoln Winch was forty-eight years old. Sarah Winch had been a registered nurse and ethicist for thirty years, specifically focussed on end-of-life care. Her background helped her and Lincoln plan for the best death possible. No amount of training and planning can help any of us fully prepare, but it can help. And in this book, Dr Winch draws on her experience to help others.

How does it help? Most of us don’t like talking about death. It’s a discussion ‘for another day’, or one that hopefully won’t be required at all as we drift away peacefully in our sleep at an advanced old age. I wish! This may be the way it will happen for some of us, but what if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness? What if you have weeks or months to live? How do you want to live those weeks or months, where do you want to die?

In the seven chapters of this book, Dr Winch starts with understanding (and then believing) the bad news. She then moves onto to the support you may need (including palliative care services) and how to access them. One of the important questions is to consider is where you want to die, as this will involve thinking about a range of other issues. There are legal issues and financial issues to consider as well.

I found this book comforting. Sure, I hope to not need to do any of this either for myself or for my loved ones. But I think it’s important to have a plan, to be aware of some of the issues, and to realise that some issues will be easier to deal with than others. I especially appreciated the explanation of the purpose and benefits of palliative care.

In just over 140 pages, Dr Winch provides some useful step by step guides for working out what is important and for navigating the healthcare system. An appendix includes some useful Australian websites as well.

Dr Sarah Winch is head of the Medical Ethics, Law and Professionalism discipline at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Queensland. She is also the CEO of Health Ethics Australia, a charity that aims to improve death literacy for everyone and compassion awareness for clinicians. She teaches healthcare ethics and researches end-of-life care.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith