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.

New Program: I’ve just completed a new, full-length audio documentary “Palliative Care: The Search for Comfort and Healing in the Face of Death.” This in-depth, 59-minute-long program was made possible by New America Media, The Gerontological Society of America, AARP, and KALW.

Palliative Care Documentary ›

Feature Reports: In 2016–17, I produced a series of six short feature-length reports on different aspects of care at the end of life. The topics covered are advance care planning, palliative care, advance directives, physician-assisted dying, death goes public (about death cafés and death-over-dinner events), and music at the end of life. In 2018, I added two reports on the issues of end-of-life care for minorities—African Americans, Asians, and Latinos. The first four reports were made possible by the Association of Health Care Journalists, KALW, and The Commonwealth Fund. The sixth report (on music) was made possible by New America Media, The Gerontological Society of America, AARP, and KALW. The seventh and eighth reports were made possible by the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s 2018 California Fellowship.

The First Report: Advance Care Planning ›

The Second Report: Palliative Care ›

The Third Report: Advance Directives ›

The Fourth Report: Physician-Assisted Dying ›

The Fifth Report: Let’s Talk about Death over a Nice Meal ›

The Sixth Report: Music at the End of Life ›

The Seventh Report: Racial Disparities ›

The Eighth Report: Asians and Latinos ›

The Ninth Report: Death Goes Public ›