The problem with a death certificate

Photo by Carl Dwyer via SXC

Photo by Carl Dwyer via SXC

During the first week of last school holidays, Anthony, Aidan and I met with Aidan’s general practitioner (GP). It’s something thousands of parents across the world do every week but for us it was not because Aidan had a cough or cold, it was for something far more serious.

You see, under Australian law, if someone dies at home you need a doctor to sign a death certificate and it needs to be one who has seen the patient in the last three months.

Until recently, Aidan didn’t have a GP. Even the common cold was too much for them to deal with and we quickly learnt that it was faster just to go straight to the children’s hospital because that’s where we’d end up anyway.

However, as Aidan’s condition worsened we were faced with the prospect that he could die at home. We knew that it was more likely he would die in hospital or in Bear Cottage (which thankfully he did) but if he had died at home we needed someone to sign the death certificate. You can’t call an ambulance in these situations so without a GP, Anthony and I would have had to drive his body to the hospital, 20 minutes away. Even with a GP, there’s no guarantee he would make a house call, but  we much preferred a quick trip around the corner than a 20 minute drive. Just the thought of placing my deceased child in the back of a car makes me feel sick.

So that brings me back to our GP appointment. Last year, on the advice of his palliative care team, we sought out a local GP for the sole reason of being able to write a death certificate. Not surprisingly it was a very awkward first appointment and I’m pretty sure it was not the type of discussion he thought he’d be having that day.

So our last appointment was simply to touch base and let him see Aidan with his own eyes. He simply said, “Are you here for the same reason as before?” to which we nodded, not wanting to let Aidan know the real reason for this visit. We had a five minute chat and we left.

I understand the laws serve a purpose but for parents of terminally children in Australia, it is just another inconvenience and a reminder of the finality of our children’s lives.


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