Premiered theatrically on 2/5/11 and released to public television stations nationwide on 6/18/11, Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject provides a 360-degree view on end-of-life care. It features the perspectives of three terminally ill patients in their 50’s and the professionals who typically care for these kinds of people – doctors, nurses, social workers and clergy – as well as several leading national experts. Consider the Conversation does not provide the viewer with any particular answer – it’s not a hospice film, for example, and it’s certainly not a film that advocates for physician assisted death. Instead, it provides something far more important than an answer – some of the questions we all need to think about and answer for ourselves. As such, Consider the Conversation aligns beautifully with the concept of advance care planning which is all about the process of talking with patients about their end-of-life wishes, documenting them, and aligning care with those wishes when push comes to shove.
TRT = 60 minutes.
In the fall of 2005, Terry Kaldhusdal and Michael Bernhagen were sitting around the fire during their annual father/child camping trip in Wisconsin’s beautiful Kettle Moraine State Forest. As usual, their conversation covered many topics, but for some reason, that evening they landed on the subject of end-of-life care in America. At the time, Mike was two years removed from the painful loss of his mother to congestive heart failure and vascular dementia, and one year into his work as a community educator for one of the nation’s largest providers of hospice care. Terry, meanwhile was busy teaching fourth grade at Magee Elementary School in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, and producing The General of Progression: The Story of John S. Rockwell, his first documentary film.
Terry listened, spellbound, as Mike told the story of his mother’s death and lessons learned from meetings with doctors, nurses, social workers, clergy, terminally ill patients, and family members. “Someday, I’d like to make a documentary on this subject,” Terry responded. “Would you be willing to help?”
Then in late April 2007, the friends arrived at a tipping point when Terry’s brother, Peter, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Two years later, on May 7, 2009, they shot their first interview with Vermont author Stephen Kiernan. Terry was behind the camera and Mike conducted the interview – roles that would become the norm moving forward. Strangely enough, Stephen’s answer to the last question in their 90-minute interview became the film’s conclusion and they worked backwards from there.
Over the course of the next 14 months, Bernhagen and Kaldhusdal conducted more than 100 interviews for Consider the Conversation – including 62 impromptu “person on the street” interviews in New York City, and over 40 in-depth interviews with patients, family members, doctors, nurses, social workers, clergy and end-of-life care experts from around the country. Their aim was to provide a 360-degree perspective on what it means to die in 21st century America.
What they learned is that there’s something universally human about end-of-life – something that transcends what makes us different – and that is the desire to express our hopes, fears and wishes about a chapter in life that is as normal as birth and adolescence. Even if it means we don’t want to talk about it.
What we’re failing to do as a culture and as a medical system is give people permission to talk.
Professionals Appearing in the Film
Rev. Jacqueline Cameron, MDiv, MD – Chicago-based Episcopal Priest and Hospice and Palliative Medicine Physician.
James Cleary, MD – Medical Oncologist and Palliative Medicine Physician, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health; past-President of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.
Gregory Gehred, MD – Roman Catholic Deacon; and Family Physician.
Jung Kwak, PhD – Assistant Professor of Social Work, Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Catherine Labinski – Wisconsin-based Roman Catholic Hospice Chaplain.
James Milford, MD – Wisconsin-based Family Practice Physician and Hospice Medical Director.
Doug C. Smith – Professional speaker, trainer and consultant; author of The Tao of Dying and Caregiving: Hospice-Proven Techniques for Healing Body and Soul.
Audrey R. Vizzard, RN, EdD – co-author, The End-of-Life Advisor: Personal, Legal, and Medical Considerations for a Peaceful, Dignified Death.
Bruce Wilson, MD – Milwaukee-based Cardiologist and Hospice and Palliative Medicine Physician.
Kay Wipperfurth, RN – Wisconsin-based nursing executive.
Terminally Ill Patients Appearing in the Film
Dee Bennett, RN from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin; Peter Kaldhusdal from Livermore, California; and Martin Welsh, MD from Camino, California.