- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Facing end of life
- Common questions about dying
- What is a ‘good death’?
What is a ‘good death’?
People often talk about wanting to have a “good death”. What dying well means is different for each person, shaped by their attitudes, cultural background, spiritual beliefs and medical treatments.
Think about what dying well means to you. You might find it is important to:
- know that death is coming and have some understanding of what to expect
- have some control over pain relief and other symptoms
- be able to retain some control over where death occurs and how it happens
- maintain a sense of dignity
- have the opportunity to prepare for death
- reconcile damaged or broken relationships
- have the chance to say goodbye
- resolve regrets
- be able to have a say in end-of-life care and ensure your wishes are respected.
There are different ways to die well. Some people see staying at home as the key to dying well, but others feel more supported spending their last days in a hospital or palliative care unit. It is important that your family, friends and health care team understand what matters most to you.
Open conversations and planning ahead for dying can also help family members and friends cope better with the grief and loss they may experience (bereavement). They may feel a sense of peace knowing your preferences were respected.
Thoughts about euthanasia
If an illness is prolonged or causing uncomfortable symptoms, some people think about speeding things up. Euthanasia is the act of deliberately ending the life of a person with an incurable condition or illness. Voluntary assisted dying is when a person ends their own life with the help of a doctor.
At the time of publication (2020), euthanasia and voluntary assisted dying are illegal in most states and territories in Australia. Voluntary assisted dying for people who meet strict criteria is legal in Victoria. To find out more, visit health.vic.gov.au and search for “voluntary assisted dying”. There is currently much discussion of these issues. The law has recently changed in Western Australia, and the laws are under review in some other states and territories (visit end-of-life.qut.edu.au for updates).
Regardless of the law, some seriously ill people consider this path. Sometimes a person with cancer may decide they want their death hastened, but later decide that they don’t. They may have thought that way because they were feeling particularly ill, scared, or worried about the strain they were putting on others.
If this is how you feel, discuss your concerns with a doctor, counsellor or social worker. Sometimes these feelings are due to depression or a sense of helplessness, or because pain or other symptoms are not well controlled.
Pain and depression can almost always be treated, and help is generally available for other symptoms. It is important that you talk to your doctor or nurse about any physical or emotional symptoms that are causing you pain or distress, and find ways to make your final days more comfortable.
If you urgently need somebody to talk to because you are thinking about ending your life, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for free, confidential telephone counselling at any time.
Dr Megan Ritchie, Staff Specialist Palliative Medicine, Palliative Care Service, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Gabrielle Asprey, Cancer Support Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Rosemary Cavanough, Consumer; Louise Durham, Nurse Practitioner, Metro South Palliative Care Service, QLD; Tracey Gardner, Senior Psychologist, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council Queensland; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia, VIC; Rowena Robinson, Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia, ACT; Helena Rodi, Program Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia, VIC.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.