October 21st, 2011 at 3:01 pm
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On Our Own Terms: A powerful documentary airing October 25th

by Carol Bursack

Bill Moyers, the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist, interviewed dozens of terminally ill patients to create a four-part exploration of end-of-life issues that span thoughts about everything from health care to cultural attitudes.

A press release I received from PBS includes quotes of high praise. The New York Daily News hails it as “ambitious, astoundingly moving, and relevant”, and The Washington Post calls it “an extraordinary achievement.”

After viewing the double DVD release of “On Our Own Terms,” I can say I fully agree.

Death in the US: the third-party process

As medical science has progressed through the last few decades, our culture has become more and more removed from the process of death. Doctors have been trained to cure, and losing a patient–no matter how elderly or sick–may be viewed as a failure. As more people die hospital settings instead of at home with family members, death has quietly become a third-party process.

The flourishing hospice movement has brought back the idea that death is a process, and a dignified death with loved ones present is preferable to many, if not most people, to a hospital death. While good medicine can put off death for many of us, we will all die. But how will we die?

Moyers “On Our Own Terms” examines how people with terminal illnesses choose to die and tells it like it is. Most people want to die at home, or in the place that has become home to them, such as an assisted living facility or a nursing home. They don’t want to die in a hospital setting.

On Our Own Terms: unflinching, powerful

This documentary is at once powerful, emotional and informational. The four segments include:

1. Living with dying. This segment follows a pediatrician with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

2. A Different Kind of Care. Medicine is the underlying theme in this segment, a theme that has allowed people to live longer, while pain has become our greatest enemy.

3. A Death of One’s Own. Here, Moyer explore the conflicting ideas about death between family members, paid caregivers and those receiving care–all of whom may have different beliefs.

4. A Time to Change. The final episode centers on the poor and uninsured. This segment affected me quite more than the other episodes. Providers of palliative care in hospitals–which is fairly recent–and hospice care struggle financially to provide dignified, pain free deaths for those without health insurance. Some of the individuals requiring palliative or hospice care are so poor they don’t have a telephone, which is a vital tool for communicating with care providers.

Watch for “On Our Own Terms” on your local PBS channel, October 25th.

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