ABCD Exchange : February 1999 : In the Sates - Media Briefing

Upfront - Barriers to Effective Pain Management
President's Letter - Turning a Corner
QuickScan - News in Brief
Public Policy - Pain as a Fifth Vital Sign
Lunch Bunch - Legal Assisted Suicide in Oregon

Briefing Gives Media the Big Picture
by Janet Heald Forlini, J.D.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently funded a briefing aimed at informing members of the media that Jack Kevorkian does not represent the breadth of changes taking place in end-of-life care. Hosted by the Columbia School of Journalism, the seminar, "Is Dr. Kevorkian Killing the Good Stories on Death and Dying?"; provided attendees an overview of the many initiatives mushrooming across the country. In addition to ABCD, presenters included Kathleen Foley of Project on Death in America; Joseph Turow, University of Pennsylvania; and Marilyn Webb, author of A Good Death.

Dr. Foley provided a clinician’s perspective on the latest data about end-of-life care, and the increasing conversation around these issues—which she referred to as ";death talk."; Joseph Turow presented his findings from a study indicating that in stories covering Kevorkian’s videotape on 60 Minutes (see December 1998 Exchange), the media rarely discussed alternatives, such as hospice and palliative care, or addressed family concerns. ABCD staff presented an overview of recent and pending legislation, both in the states and on Capitol Hill, related to end-of-life care. Finally, Marilyn Webb encouraged fellow journalists to take advantage of an opportunity to present the public with information on heartening innovations and personal stories—and let people know that they do have options when facing the ends of their lives.

The cultural and social change so essential to improving end-of-life care will come, in part, from better media coverage of clinical, political and social issues surrounding death and dying. The media briefing provided an excellent introduction to journalists interested in understanding the complex issues surrounding improved care at the end of life.

If Americans continue to believe that their only two options at the end-of-life are a Kevorkian-like suicide or unbearable pain, they will only see the end of life as a time of fear and loss of control. Briefings such as the one at Columbia increase the likelihood that the press will address important issues and innovations in end-of-life care, enabling the public to understand better the scope of improvements taking place in health care institutions, legislatures, and medical and nursing education. With that understanding, perhaps people will begin to feel more confident that the health care system will truly care for and comfort them at the end of life.

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