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End of Life on TV: Coming to a Cable Station Near You

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If you had told me a year ago that there would be two cable series on aging and the end of life, I would have told you you were crazy. Yet that is the situation as of last month:

 

First, Showtime has been running a powerful 6-episode docu-drama on dying patients and their families called “Time of Death” (http://www.sho.com/sho/time-of-death/home) since early November. They describe the program as “What are the final weeks, days and very moments of life really like? TIME OF DEATH offers an unflinching, intimate look at remarkable people facing their own mortality. Cameras follow these brave, terminally ill individuals as they live out the end of their lives, supported by family, friends, and dedicated healthcare and hospice workers who gently guide the process. This groundbreaking documentary series provides a tangible, hopeful reminder of the finite nature of our time here on earth”. The reviews online have been positive http://bit.ly/1aMugkb although some note that the program glosses over some of the messier aspects of death and dying.

 

I have watched 3 episodes, the first of which is available for free on the Showtime website at http://www.sho.com/sho/time-of-death/season/1#/index , and have been very moved. The patients and families spoke so frankly about their illness and death, it was just like seeing my real-life cases. One family allowed the cameras to be in the room as their son was actively dying and a wonderful hospice nurse explains that process to them and to the audience. We come close to witnessing his actual death and in episode 3 a man with ALS dies and they show the family doing post mortem care and having a wake, things I never thought I’d see on TV. This is the work we do everyday and now others outside of our field can see it too. The series will be available until mid-January and so far you have to have a Showtime subscription but I hope it will eventually be available outside of that (Netflix? Hulu?)

 

The other new show is an HBO comedy called “Getting On”. This started on Nov. 24th and is also 6 episodes, but is a comedy about the staff of an all-female geriatric unit of a California hospital http://www.hbo.com/getting-on . The review from the New York Times described it as “brash” and “not shy about viewing this universe through an absurdist lens.” (http://nyti.ms/1ec3dSV ). I watched the first episode as well and unfortunately didn’t find it funny. I also didn’t see how it would be of interest to a wider audience, but with HBO that’s not an issue.

 

These programs contribute to the increase in media coverage about the end of life that is very encouraging. As I noted in a previous post (http://palliativejournal.stanford.edu/?p=11123 ) I think we’re at a tipping point on this topic and hope that these programs help fuel a national conversation about the last part of life. Stay tuned!

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