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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject

I’m not sure how it got there, but an article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel landed in my inbox last week. It described the foundations of a new documentary, Consider the Conversation, by two friends who had recently experienced losses; one of them is also affiliated with a hospice. The video examines contemporary dying in America from both personal and cultural/health systems perspectives. The personal approach is achieved through “person on the street” interviews and interviews with people dying of progressive diseases. There are also interviews with well-know palliative care experts such as Ira Byock and James Cleary and journalist/author Stephen Kiernan.

I saw two trailers and snippets of interviews with Drs. Byock and Cleary and Kiernan. The expert interviews are rather hard-hitting. Byock takes strong, almost vehement, issue with those who decry the “indignities” of helplessness that may be experienced with advanced illness. Instead, he views loss of function and resulting dependence on others as a manifestation of the human condition, qualitatively very like the helplessness of an infant, and providing the same opportunities for caring. Cleary emphatically says that the statement “there is nothing more we can do” is physician neglect of duty.

We have all seen the statistics that demonstrate that the vast majority of Americans say that they would like to die at home. The “person on the street” interviews confirmed this (no surprise) sometimes eloquently in just a few words. The people interviewed included a pretty broad demographic of gender, age, and ethnicity.

I’m not at all a media-savvy person, but the photography/videography seemed to me to be exceptionally well-done. There was no attempt at sugar-coating. The messages from the dying interviewees were clearly from the heart and personally moving.

The complete video is available from Amazon. There are two license options available: personal use, and educational use to a non-paying audience. The run-time is 60 minutes. There are multiple potential educational uses. If I were still teaching advance practice nursing students, I would likely show it in segments followed by conversation and perhaps role-playing and a journaling assignment. As a community discussion-piece, many possible venues are available. The Journal Sentinel article includes a link to a YouTube trailer. There is another trailer and interview segments on the documentary’s web site. Consider the Conversation also has a Facebook page.

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