Playwright Helen-Claire Tingling has long been fascinated by the different approaches to death and dying that exist amongst differing cultures. “In the West, we seem uncomfortable with the fact that death is an inescapable part of living, and we therefore do not integrate it into our lives. We try to outrun death, and we have outsourced the whole process of dying. In some cultures though, care of the dying and dead is an honour taken on exclusively by family members. 100 years ago, a dead relative may have been laid out in the front room. Now, in our youth-worshipping culture, we leave dying and death to ‘experts’ in the medical and legal fields, as if it has nothing to do with us. I wanted to open up the discussion about dying so that people can really talk about it. I wanted to bring it out of the closet. We all expect to have a ‘Hollywood death’, one in which we sort of fade away neatly and quietly. Death though – like birth – is neither neat nor quiet: it’s messy and uncontrollable. Living Will shows the flaws in the belief that we can ensure a ‘good death’ by an advance directive.”
1 // Living Will challenges assumptions about the authority of the State over the individual; and looks at the complicated issues surrounding so-called “Living Will” documents and the problems inherent in their execution. The play raises the ethical issues surrounding the right to autonomy within the health-care system, the legal right to choose proxy for health-care, the right to refuse treatment; and ultimately, the right to die. Obliquely, Living Will points out flaws in the education and acculturation of health-care professionals: systemic problems are exposed through the words and actions of the hospital representatives.
2 // Living Will questions the existing ethical decision-making model and raises additional ethical issues for discussion, including:
• Sanctity vs quality of life
• The relationship between dependence and depression,
depression and competency, and aging and competency
• Geriatric care and ageism
• The use of restraints as a medical tool, and the use of
pharmacology to achieve patient compliance
• The lack of adequate funding, and the efficient use of
Act I introduces siblings from a middle-class family who have been called to a family meeting by their father, Wilfred (Will) in order to discuss his last wishes. Wilfred is in good health, and since he has never been in the hospital, he anticipates that he will likely die in his sleep. On the other hand, he is 79 years old and would like to get his affairs in order.
Crisis occurs when Will suddenly becomes ill, and his children do not agree upon a course of action for his care. As power of attorney, Will’s son Jake tries to uphold his father’s wishes for no interventions, while other family members fight to keep Will alive at any cost.
Living Will depicts the conflicts and emotions of the King family siblings, as they confront the issues surrounding their father’s sudden and unexpected illness, decline, and death. The Play’s tone is naturalistic. The action spans a 12 month time-period, and is set in a suburban living room and a city hospital.
Wilfred's youngest son.
Wilfred's middle daughter.
Wilfred's eldest son.
Wilfred's youngest daughter.
Wilfred's oldest child.
The Social Worker.
The play deals with contemporary issues regarding death and dying and would be of particular interest to the “sandwich generation” and older “baby boomers”; as well as geriatric care-providers; and teachers and students of end-of-life issues.