Include death and funerals in dialogue on ageing

Senior citizens near Tanglin Halt Market in 2018.
Senior citizens near Tanglin Halt Market in 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

The idea of a Ministry of Ageing was floated in July (Call for a new ministry of ageing to deal with emerging challenges, July 12).

In the interim, it is important to first expand on the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) to include more robust and coordinated policy approaches and responses to ageing issues.

Concurrently, the governance of the funeral profession should be taken away from the National Environment Agency (NEA) and our attitudes and approaches to dying, death and funerals in Singapore recalibrated.

We should move away from pure public health concerns and include:

• death education in our schools,

• the role that death plays in urban redevelopment,

• the manpower needs of the funeral profession,

• the number of the elderly dying alone and destitute in our communities - by 2030, the Government estimates the number of seniors who live alone will hit 83,000.

Thus, any governmental agency on ageing cannot exclude death literacy and the funerary needs of Singaporeans.

We cannot lull ourselves into thinking that any discussion of issues pertaining to future demographic challenges in Singapore ends at retirement adequacy.

We cannot lull ourselves into thinking that any discussion of issues pertaining to future demographic challenges in Singapore ends at retirement adequacy.

Demography is an issue that requires an "inter-agency, cross-ministry" approach and death should not be left out, lest there is a shortfall in our nation's responses to the challenges of a rapidly ageing population.

In Singapore, there is cognitive blindness towards death care and the funeral profession, and this extends into the public service.

For the future of Singapore, people must better understand and come to terms with dying and death.

Chen Jiaxi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2019, with the headline 'Include death and funerals in dialogue on ageing'. Print Edition | Subscribe