Till Death Do Us Part: Ensuring the Health Care System Works for and with You

A hundred years ago, serious illness was short lived, and death came quickly. Today, people might experience years of illness with repeated hospitalization and decline before death. What happens when medical interventions have little more to offer? Although many opt for symptom management alone, others unfortunately receive care they don’t want and can’t benefit from.

Join us to explore palliative care and the challenges faced by seriously ill people and their families within the modern health care system. You will learn about today’s rapidly changing approaches to end of life, and the urgent need to ensure that individuals receive the care they really want.

We will see how the hospice movement has expanded globally. We’ll explore the origins and development of palliative care, compare different cultural experiences of it and look at likely future demands. We’ll see how health care can help create myths about palliative care, and we’ll critique the media’s role in how we view aging. We will discuss how to initiate earlier planning and palliative care, and explore the challenges of end-of-life conversations.

In addition, we’ll examine the unprecedented impacts of modern-day medicine and the aging baby boomer generation, learning how changes in epidemiology, demography and medical technology have affected end of life. We will contrast traditional health care approaches and the relatively new concept of death denial. We’ll discuss increasingly complicated end-of-life ethical dilemmas in a changing legal framework. And we’ll reflect on personal experiences and the needs of everyone affected by a death.

This course will be of interest to health professionals, spiritual advisors, policy-makers, researchers, educators, gerontologists, social workers, alternative medical practitioners, volunteers, caregivers and anyone else seeking a deeper understanding of the increasingly complex field of end of life.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Vancouver 3 Jane Webley $450.00 20 Register

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Identify the elements of palliative care and a palliative approach to care
  • Describe the evolution of palliative care
  • Analyse effect of public pressure and policy on end of life care
  • Evaluate future needs and expectations and understand the benefits of palliative care
  • Explore misconceptions and barriers, and potential solutions
  • Analyse the media’s impact on our perception of end of life
  • Evaluate medical advances in relation to natural death
  • Describe the legal and ethical challenges in palliative care
  • Explore the concept of denial and hope at end of life
  • Analyse perceptions and ethical dilemmas
  • Explain the need for good communication and planning for end of life
  • Explore options for communicating your wishes, goals and values

Learning methods

You will learn through a combination of lectures, assigned readings, film and video viewing, group discussions and storytelling. For Liberal Arts Certificate for 55+ students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: The history of hospices and the development of palliative care

  • History of the hospice movement
  • Global expansion of the hospice movement
  • Origins and development of palliative care
  • Comparisons of culture and expectations
  • Future demands
  • Barriers to palliative care
  • What better palliative care looks like

Week 2: Healthcare, ethics and the legal system

  • Modern day medicine and baby boomers
  • Traditional health care approaches
  • Epidemiology, demography and medical technology
  • Ethical dilemmas and the legal framework
  • The media’s role in ageing
  • The concept of denial
  • Reflection on personal experience

Week 3: Dying to talk

  • How age affects our perspectives, determinants of health
  • Tools and resources for earlier care and planning
  • What is healthcare doing?
  • Resources for grief and bereavement
  • Challenges with conversations and tools to assist

Books, materials and resources

There is required reading for this course.

Reading material will be available using SFU's online course management system, Canvas. You will receive Canvas access instructions on the first day of the course. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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