Where to bury the dead – future endings exercises the minds of more than cemetery operators

Some of the country’s best known cemeteries are at capacity and there’s a looming crisis over where our dead will be buried. 

In this program on ABC Radio National, Julian Morrow speaks with three people who are applying some lateral thinking for the families needing to lay their loved ones to rest, either literally in the form of body disposal or placing cremains following a cremation. The trio talk about alternatives to traditional burials and cremations and discuss culture, religion, public spaces and death tech. 

Green or natural burial, Aquamation or alkaline hydrolysis, composting via Recompose and other options are canvassed.

Guests

Hannah Gould, Australian Death Studies Society and part of the DeathTech team at the University of Melbourne 

Robert Pitt, Chief Executive Officer at Adelaide Cemeteries Authority

Sam Holleran, Researcher, University of Melbourne working on planning of cemeteries in greater Melbourne.

Listen to this fascinating conversation that took place on Sunday Extra, June 6 at 9.30am as part of the regular Round Table segment. Check the link below or search for Sunday Extra and click on the appropriate segment …… What’s the future of burials

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A progress report on VAD

In March our post referenced the situation in NSW where the state is running out of grave sites.

Today what is a grave situation for many people is they don’t have the choice to access voluntary medically assisted dying. Thankfully the good folks of Victoria have better access than most other Australians. This story was broadcast on ABC Radio National on Wednesday 5 May, 2021. Our host is Paul Barclay.

Victoria was the first state in Australia to legalise Voluntary Assisted Dying. The law came into effect in 2019.  Western Australian and Tasmania have now passed similar laws, but they are yet to take effect.  After nearly two years of operation in Victoria, how are the laws working, and where is the debate at?  Paul Barclay asks a panel of speakers.

Presented by The Wheeler Centre. Recorded on April 20, 2021.

Speakers:

Andrew Denton – Television broadcaster and producer; founder of Go Gentle Australia; advocate for better end of life choices in Australia.

Justice Betty King QC – Chairperson, Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board; former judge, Supreme Court of Victoria.

Associate Professor Phillip Parente – medical oncologist, Director, Cancer Services, Eastern Health.

Ron Poole – idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis sufferer; has elected to pursue Voluntary Assisted Dying, after receiving a prognosis of having less than 6 months left to live.

Duration: 55min 39sec

Listen to the program at this link: Voluntary Assisted Dying: how are Victorian laws working?

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It’s what you could call a grave situation

What to do when the land required for burying our dead starts to run out. To put it frankly, what we mean of course, is the land that we’d like to allocate for the purpose of disposing of dead bodies. All other creatures when they die, for the most part are ‘buried’ on the surface. What the Tibetans refer to as air burial – where the creatures of the sky and the night are invited to consume the body parts and so the cycle of life continues on uninterrupted.

We have chosen to slow this process down by placing bodies under the ground, where it takes considerably longer for decomposition to be completed. And we’re tried to memorialise the site by setting it aside with headstones and land locked away from being available for any other purpose. It’s an unrealistic mental construct that can’t be perpetuated in the real ecological world.

So we have what we have, a situation where the land able to be set aside for cemeteries is running out. In this report from the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA): NSW is running out of graves: review, (CPSA 17 March 2021), a spokesperson writes:

A REVIEW of the NSW Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2013 has come up with recommendations for sweeping changes.

The review has tried to deal with three issues that beset the funeral industry: (1) shortage of burial land, (2) funeral price gauging, and (3) lack of industry oversight.

You could say that issue (3) is the root cause of issues (1) and (2).

The shortage of burial land in NSW is caused by the very optimistic assumption we could, in perpetuity, keep burying people in perpetual graves without getting to the point where there would be no land left for graves, in particular in Sydney and other urban areas.

Calling it a shortage is a bit misleading, because we’ve actually run out.

The review recommends the following to resolve this shortage:

The NSW Government immediately acquires land for new cemeteries and crematoria in Sydney.

The review also recommends that old cemeteries, provided they’re not full, can continue to offer perpetual tenure burials.

And the review also recommends that Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW (CCNSW) becomes a real regulator for the funeral industry as a whole, not just for the cemetery and crematorium parts of it.

Read the full story at this link: NSW is running out of grave sites

And the report is here: Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW

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Turning a blind eye to reality can get us into lots of bother

In A fraction too much friction, Samantha Trenoweth (WW, March 2021) asks, how dangerous are conspiracy theories?

Good seemingly rational people can get caught up in the unrealistic realm that is conspiracy theories.

Writes Trenoweth:

‘While no particular personality is more susceptible than another to conspiracy theories, there are types of thinking that can make us more easily misled.  According to Dr Carmen Lawrence, from the School of Psychological Science at the University of Western Australia (UWA), people who become absorbed by conspiracy theories have a greater tendency to engage in what’s called System One Thinking. 

“They are more likely to jump to conclusions, using Heuristics and biases, to have an emotional tone to their level of understanding, an unwillingness to embrace scientific explanations,” she told a forum hosted by The Conversation and the University of South Australia.

It’s important to remember that: Most conspiracy theories are internally incoherent.  So what’s the danger zone.

There was a time when belief in conspiracy theories was an amusing eccentricity.  But in a pandemic, in a global environmental crisis, when democratic elections are at stake, spiraling disinformation seems a little dangerous.  Should we be concerned? 

Well yes, for a number of reasons.  The first is that, according to Professor Ulrich Ecker, also from the School of Psychological Science at the UWA , “there are malicious actors out there who use social media as a tool to destablise societies.”

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist from the University of Bristol, says: “If everyone around me thinks the Earth is round, I’m quite sensibly going to believe the same thing.  That worked really well while we didn’t have social media because, if I’m the only one in my village who believes the earth is flat, chances are everyone’s telling me I’m the village idiot and I will be quiet about it.  But the moment you have Facebook with a billion users, I can go online and it doesn’t matter how absurd my opinion is – bam – I’m surrounded by hundreds of other people who share that view and my belief is reinforced.  This can only happen on social media.  In real life you’d never meet those other people because there are so few out there.”

This should be something we take into account when we come across ideas that don’t stack up with common sense, sound science or what is in the best interests of the larger community.  This is not to say we should be blind followers of what might be the official thinking of the day.  There is no lack of evidence where authorities have got it wrong over the years and we would have done better if we’d paid attention to those who cautioned against blind faith.  Blindly following Kings and Queens, the church, political parties and vested industry promotions, have got us into a lot of bother over the centuries – as noted in the next part of Samantha Trenoweth’s report:

‘Another threat comes from industry.  Professor Lewandowsky, expresses concern that science-skeptical climate change conspiracies are “driven by ideology and by vested interests.  We have an abundance of evidence that we’re facing an organised political campaign to deny science,” he says.

So are conspiracy theories dangerous? “Yes,” he answers emphatically.  “Exposure to a conspiracy theory makes people less engaged in politics, more distrustful, less likely to reduce their carbon footprint.

As the victims of conspiracy theories mount, academics are scrambling for solutions.  A massive increase in emphasis on critical thinking as early as primary school is high on the list of interventions, along with ‘pre-bunking’ programs [teaching internet users about conspiracy theories before they encounter them seems to take the gloss-off] and finally some level of content moderation online.  How successful these might be is still open for debate, however.

“We know from history that there are spikes of misinformation and conspiracy theories in times of great crisis.  There’s no doubt we’re in such a time so we are going to see a spike of activity… is it forever?  I don’t think so … I suppose, like most human beings, I remain optimistic – stupidly so, in many respects – that we’ll take more action on climate change, get on top of the economic difficulties we confront and won’t continue to trash the planet.  But I’m not so optimistic that I can’t see the role of misinformation and conspiracy theories in making that a much more difficult task.”

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YOLO

You Only Live Once, so the mantra goes. On the surface this may seem to be absolutely true, sort of. Depending on your worldview.  But a quick look behind the veil and a completely different reality may come into focus. It all depends on ones perception. Take the following headline as an example:

You only live once vs living for the future: Striking a balance

How Does the Truth of YOLO Impact Your Lifestyle and Mindset? asks the writer, then goes on to say:

I’m not usually very good at thinking of quick retorts (or should I say re-tortes) but I replied: ‘oh yeah I know, in fact I treat myself often, but I do it intentionally with stuff I want rather than opportunistically with stuff that is there.’ 

I had developed a new mindset unconsciously. In my weight loss I haven’t dieted or ‘punished’ myself. I’ve just become focused on what matters and intentional about my relationship with my body and the stuff I put in it.

Die-alogue Cafe: That’s one approach from a human centred and material perspective.

What if we came at this from a different angle? One of nature, one of living within a community, one of thinking of life as being a continuum – from one generation to another. One of being part of a larger whole of the earth community as a living, breathing organism as contained in the GAIA concept by Norman Myers. Taking this idea further, of being an earthling, as Germaine Greer has described herself in her latter years.

How does this change the somewhat self-centred approach of it’s all about me getting as much as I can out of this one time earthly visit, to being one of a community of beings, of which humans are but one very small part?

Thoughts to ponder, as we prepare for our end-of-lives.

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Still not enough uptake for Advance Care Directives

Denial still seems to be the order of the day when it comes getting our end-of-life affairs sorted out..

This story has a good outcome, because the person dying had put in place the necessary documents to assist those who were required to speak on his behalf.

Sophie Kesteven writes for The Pineapple Project, (ABC, Friday, 12 Feb 2021). In this post: Advance care directives and how to plan for the end of your life, Kesteven relates the story of Jacinta, a 24 year old relative tasked with making decisions about her uncles medical treatment in the absence of anyone else on hand at the time. Here’s a short extract about making a life-or-death decision:

Blood tests showed that Jacinta’s great uncle had a urinary tract infection, which turned into a kidney infection, and, eventually, his organs started shutting down.

Even if treatment was successful, his quality of life would have been impaired.

“The doctor said ‘You need to make this decision within the next half an hour, because if we don’t start treatment within the next half an hour, it’s not going to have any effect’,” Jacinta recalled.

“First of all, I wanted to just walk away and just be like, ‘No, someone else do this.’ And then I was like, ‘No. I need to do this.'”

Poor phone reception made her parents unreachable, so she was left to make a massive decision on her own, and fast.

Although it was incredibly difficult, she referred to her great uncle’s Advance Health Care Directive — a legal document outlining an individual’s medical wishes if they cannot communicate on their own behalf.

“I came to the decision with two minutes to spare that they shouldn’t commence treatment,” she said.

This story refers to the work of intensive care specialist, Dr Peter Saul, who notes that less than 15% of the population has Advance Health Care Directive documents in place.

And later ..

Even though her relative had an Advance Health Directive in place, Jacinta said she still felt like she was in a grey area because there was a chance he could recover.

Ultimately, though it only formed part of a much more difficult process.

“The Advance Health Directive was really useful for me in that I knew where he stood on kind of black and white health issues,” she said.

“I did use that to end up guiding my decision that most likely if the treatment did work, only worked partially, or kind of didn’t work very well that he would end up with the quality of life that he wouldn’t have been happy with. And that’s ultimately how I ended up coming to that decision.”

Read the story here: Advance care planning can really help

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Choice at end of life

When pain and suffering become intolerable, the right to intervene to permit a more dignified and peaceful ending would seem like a no brainer.

But despite most people agreeing with such thinking, our elected parliamentarians for the most part have thought otherwise – at least up until now.

A new bill is soon to go before the NSW parliament that will hopefully be a circuit breaker in the dying with dignity space that has dragged on over many years.

Letters to editors can help bring these matters to the fore, which is the case here:

It’s about dignity and a decision (Letter to the editor, Newcastle Herald, 31 December 2020)

Gladys Berejiklian must allow a conscience vote when Alex Greenwich puts his bill before parliament (Most NSW voters back euthanasia law: poll’. Herald 27/12). It has become clear that a large majority of NSW voters would like the opportunity to die with dignity.

I, like thousands of other people have had to witness a loved one die a lingering, painful and pitiful death.  We the (estimated 85 per cent) need to let our members of parliament know that we want voluntary assisted dying in NSW as they have in Victoria, and Western Australia.  It is also probably soon to be introduced into Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland. 

Signing the petition which is currently being promoted by the Dying with Dignity (DWD) organization, and which will be available to shopping centres throughout the coming months, will help to convince our MP’s that we want dying in a dignified manner to be our right.

John Smith, Mount Hutton.

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Narratives are what we live by

This last 12 months the narratives that have stood us in good stead for many a long year, have been challenged in many ways – fake news being the most virulent example.

This article by Adam Szymanski: How to Build Narrative Power and Co-Create a Just Future is prefaced on the notion that imagination is a powerful tool to free ourselves from repressive cultural narratives and social power structures.

Imagining is one of those things that children do as part of play everyday, but adults tend to limit their imagination for fear of stepping outside the norms.

In an era of outsourcing just about everything, imagination has become a product to be bought in the market place.

We need to build our imagination muscles if we are going to overcome the dominant powers of big – and sometimes not so big – private corporations who make it their business to be the ones who have all the good ideas – all we have to do is align ourselves with their ways of doing things and all will be well. No rocking the boat, no sense of being a rebel or dissenter, no questioning of the status quo. It’s much easier to conform and play their game. The trouble with this model is it leaves us being passive recipients and vulnerable to exploitation.

So whether it’s issues to do with climate (which is what Szymanski is on about) the same principles also apply to over medicalisation of end of life issues or the over indulgent commercialisation of funerals. We would do well to work up our own narrative/s – ones that serve our family and community interests. Otherwise by default we serve theirs – the privileged few. We need to disrupt the dominant narratives with ones that are more inclusive, more compassionate, more earth centred, more attuned to the circumstances at our times of need. He says:

….. construct a narrative composed of a message, a story, a narrative, and a deep narrative. While messages are ephemeral, humans connect and remember stories and narrative thanks to the basic elements of story-building. Stories make sense through the context of a narrative which ultimately proposes responsibility and action, bringing our audience into a shared vision sustaining a deeper narrative to change underlying assumptions.

The start of a new year is the perfect time to put pen to paper and write our narrative within the context of our end-of-life wishes, our funeral preferences. And let’s go the next step by adding some substance to the documents we produce – provide some guidance notes for our next of kin that includes quotes and contact lists. Build the narrative and then relate the contents to those to whom it is addressed.

All the evidence tells us that only good can come from this approach.

Read the full story here: How to build narrative power

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A time for mixed emotions

LYUBA BURAKOVA / Stocksy

Happy and celebratory times for many may be counter balanced with less than happy and perhaps mournful times for others.

Dying and death doesn’t pay much attention to human invented events such as Christmas so it’s little wonder that there will be people coming to the end of their lives, which means family and friends will by association, be having to face the realities of the ending of days.

Managing Grief at Christmas is the title of story from Dying Matters in the UK who note that:

Christmas can be a stressful period even at the best of times but coping with a loss at this time of year can really test the strongest of people. The festive season can be one of the most difficult times of the year for those grieving.

The Compassionate Friends (TCF) is a charitable organisation of bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents dedicated to the support and care of other similarly bereaved family members who have suffered the death of a child or children of any age and from any cause.

TCF suggests that Christmas cannot be the same as it was because our family is not the same – not complete – and offer advice on their website about grief and bereavement of a child. They also have more information specifically on coping at Christmas and a leaflet available to download.

An excerpt from Getting Grief Right: Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss, by Patrick O’Malley, PhD with Tim Madigan, features eight ideas to help you enjoy the holidays while also honouring your loss.

The full story is at this link: Managing Grief at Christmas.

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Customers still getting a raw deal on this most basic of services

This isn’t the first time the biggest funeral provider in Australia has been called out for treating customers rather badly.

Rani Hayman in: Choice hands Shonky awards to InvoCare funerals and Harvey Norman’s partnership with Latitude Finance (ABC News, 9 November 2020), reports that:

Allegations of questionable credit practices, unclear funeral pricing and deceptive sales tactics have put five products and businesses in the firing line of this year’s Shonky awards.

The annual awards, handed out by consumer advocacy group Choice, name and shame brands it says have failed to give Australian consumers a fair deal.

Harvey Norman and InvoCare funerals are the big brands to feature in this year’s awards.

Choice CEO Alan Kirkland said companies it alleged preyed on vulnerable Australians had been called out.

“InvoCare — the company behind White Lady Funerals and Simplicity Funerals — has done everything it can to avoid being upfront with grieving families about cost,” he said.

InvoCare is behind nearly 40 brands and is the dominant player in Australia’s funeral industry.

Get the full story at the link: Choice hands shonky awards to Invocare

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