The End of Life Radio Project

Produced by JoAnn Mar

THE END OF LIFE—that’s something that happens to other people, right? Something no one really wants to think about for very long. Yet, this is the final frontier we must all face sooner or later. Death gives no one preferential treatment.

My curiosity about The End of Life started years ago, when Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his suicide machine were making the headlines. Kevorkian was attracting all sorts of sensational attention, like a ghoulish circus act. Although many were repelled by his antics, a huge majority of Americans surveyed at that time supported a right to die for the terminally ill. This support cut across ideological and party lines. This surprised me, given the great societal stigma attached to suicide and the strength of the anti-abortion, right-to-life, and religious fundamentalist movements in this country. I became curious—what was driving all this support in favor of legalized assisted-dying? The short answer: People want more control over how they die. They don’t trust that the medical system will always honor the wishes of their patients.

Twenty years ago, I produced a series of documentaries on death and dying for KALW at a time few people in public radio or television were reporting on the end of life. I’m happy to say end of life has gotten a lot more media attention lately.

My mother passed away over a year ago, and I thought now is a good time to revisit this topic, after having not paid much attention to it for many years. My mission was to find out if care at the end of life had improved over the last twenty years. The answer is complicated: yes, end-of-life care has made significant progress, but we still have a long way to go.

I’ve spent the last year doing research and interviewing physicians, medical experts, and patients. The results of my research are included in this radio series, which examines four important components of end-of-life care: Advance Care Planning, Palliative Care, Advance Health Care Directives, and Physician-Assisted Dying. For those of you with little familiarity about death and aging, think of this series as an introductory course—End of Life 101.

This series is made possible by KALW 91.7 in San Francisco, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and The Commonwealth Fund.

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