Fall 2018


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 serious illness characterized by repeated hospitalization and functional decline leading to death. What happens if patients’ diseases progress to the point where further medical interventions have little to offer? Unfortunately, although more people are opting for symptom management rather than life-extending treatment, many receive care they do not want and cannot benefit from. As the population ages, there is increasing need for appropriate palliative care services.

Join us over three Saturdays 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.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

We will trace the history of the hospice movement in the U.K. and its global expansion. We will explore the origins and development of palliative care, compare different cultural experiences and expectations of it, and look at likely future demands. We’ll see how health care participated in creating myths about palliative care, and will critique the media’s role in how we view aging. We will discuss tools and resources that are used to initiate earlier palliative care and planning for end of life. While exploring the challenges associated with conversations about end of life, we will also examine the unprecedented impacts of modern-day medicine and aging baby boomers.

In addition, we will contrast traditional health care approaches and the relatively new concept of death denial. We will see how changes in epidemiology, demography and medical technology have affected trajectories of dying and approaches to death. We will identify and discuss the end-of-life ethical dilemmas that health care teams face—dilemmas that become increasingly complicated as the legal framework changes. And we will end by reflecting on personal experiences and the needs of everyone affected by a death.

To engage with all these issues, we will take a variety of approaches, including lectures, assigned readings, film and video viewing, group discussions and storytelling.

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.

  • 80% of people say that, if seriously ill, they would want to talk to their doctor about end-of-life care.
  • 25% of doctors know that their patients have advance directives on file.
  • 7% of people report actually having had an end-of-life conversation with their doctor.

Statistics from VITAS Healthcare, The Importance of Talking About End-of-Life Care, vitas.com

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

There is required reading for this course.

Required readings for this course will be available online.

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

Look at other courses in