Fall 2018


Explorations in Death and Dying: Issues in Later Life (55+)

Death comes to us all. But who dies when, and how, varies dramatically depending on our social location and the accumulation of experiences over our life-course. This variation is often lost in the media’s sensationalized accounts of death and dying.

Zeroing in on the experiences of death and dying, we will critically examine who cares for the dying person (and how), different contexts in which older people spend their last days, legal and ethical questions that arise, and the funeral industry’s role in shaping our last rites and final farewells.

Note: Back by popular demand, from fall 2017. This seminar involves considerable required reading and active participation in group discussion. Registration is limited to 10 from the 55+ Program, who will join students from SFU’s Department of Gerontology in their course on end-of-life issues.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

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

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Vancouver 8 Sharon Koehn $230.00 0 Join Waitlist

What will I learn?

Week 1: Introductions

Meet the Gerontology students you will be studying with. In this class, the Gerontology students present on their work so far, covering themes and topics in the course, and setting the scene for the next six weeks.

Week 2: Palliative care (or are we all drinking the same Kool-Aid?)

We explore the benefits and limitations of a palliative approach to care, which focuses on improving the quality of life of persons with life-limiting conditions, and their families. It involves physical, psychological, social and spiritual care, and its use is now advocated in all health care settings.

Week 3: Family roles and involvement in the dying process

Families used to provide all of the care for the dying and bury their own dead. Much of this work is now done by professionals. How do different family members negotiate their relationships with the dying person? How do they share power with professional care providers? How do they grieve?

Week 4: Is residential care a place where people go to die?

When do people go to acute care or hospice, as opposed to residential care? In the residential care setting, what are the financial and organizational limitations to providing effective end of life care? What are the opportunities for and challenges to delivering a “person-centred approach”?

Week 5: The right to choose, or legal considerations of death and dying

A representative from Nidus helps us to understand how to differentiate between personal planning and estate planning, identify the legal documents available to adults in British Columbia for making arrangements for end-of-life care and for after death, and assess the implications of the Supreme Court of Canada decision, Carter vs Canada, with respected to physician assisted suicide.

Week 6: Ethical dilemmas at the end of life

Here we look at and go beyond media coverage of the acceptability and value of physician-assisted suicide; for example, how do gender and religion influence people’s attitudes on this topic? We also delve into the ethical dilemmas surrounding organ and tissue donation and life sustaining technology.

Week 7: The big send-off—last rites and the funeral industry

Funerals are now big business and people’s decisions as to how their bodies are dealt with are influenced considerably by professionals who can deliver everything from dancing pallbearers to lifesize tombstones. The question of where we are interred is increasingly governed by the problem of space—we’re running out of it! Find out how different countries deal with this mounting problem.

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

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

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

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