Our Purpose

The Conversation Project is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.

Too many people are dying in a way they wouldn’t choose, and too many of their loved ones are left feeling bereaved, guilty, and uncertain.

It’s time to transform our culture so we shift from not talking about dying to talking about it. It’s time to share the way we want to live at the end of our lives. And it’s time to communicate about the kind of care we want and don’t want for ourselves.

We believe that the place for this to begin is at the kitchen table—not in the intensive care unit—with the people we love, before it’s too late.

Together we can make these difficult conversations easier. We can make sure that our own wishes and those of our loved ones are expressed and respected.

If you’re ready to join us, we ask you: Have you had the conversation?

Our History

The Conversation Project began in 2010, when Ellen Goodman and a group of colleagues and concerned media, clergy, and medical professionals gathered to share stories of “good deaths” and “bad deaths” within their own circle of loved ones.

Over several months, a vision emerged for a grassroots public campaign spanning both traditional and new media that would change our culture. The goal: to make it easier to initiate conversations about dying, and to encourage people to talk now and as often as necessary so that their wishes are known when the time comes.

In order to make this vision a reality, The Conversation Project began its collaboration with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in September of 2011. IHI is a not-for-profit organization that helps lead improvement of health and health care throughout the world.

Today, The Conversation Project team includes five seasoned law, journalism, and media professionals who are working pro bono alongside professional staff from IHI who bring a wealth of expertise to the project.

The Conversation Project team wishes to acknowledge the generous assistance of the countless individuals who provided insight, advice, and encouragement as we prepared to launch our national campaign. Along the way, they shared resources, knowledge, and experience giving us leads, making connections, and focusing our work. Not surprisingly, they almost always shared their own personal stories, stories that underscore the importance of answering the question: “Have you had the conversation?” To each of you, our thanks.

Our Stories

Ellen Goodman
Co-Founder and Director

“We talked about everything except one thing: how she wanted to live at the end of her life.”

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Mandy Ferguson
Project Coordinator, IHI

She started telling the story of this poor old man who had suffered from a seriously painful decline and, ultimately, death.

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Len Fishman
Co-Founder and Director

“At that point I decided not only to honor my mother’s wishes, but also to give her the best possible death.”

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Maureen Bisognano
President and CEO, IHI

“Looking back, I wonder what might have come from asking that question.”

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Otile McManus
Director

“I was 21 when my 19-year-old sister was struck and killed by a drunk driver. That was more than 40 years ago.”

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Jane Roessner, PhD
Director; Publications, IHI

“My parents died four years ago, at ages 86 and 88 — within a week of one another.”

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Harvey Freishtat, Esq.
Director

“I will never want to leave my wife, children or other loved ones in a similar position of uncertainty and guilt.”

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Gail Freeman
Vice President, IHI

“When my brother was diagnosed with colon cancer at 39 years old, I never thought he would die from the disease.”

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Martha Hayward
Lead for Public and Patient Engagement, IHI

“I wish we had had the conversation as a family, together, understanding that her wishes should prevail.”

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Sarah Putnam
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“I was lucky to have had the most pragmatic of fathers, who would plan for any potential problem before it had a chance to become a problem.”

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Harriet Warshaw
Executive Director, The Conversation Project

“It was a time of serenity and pure joy sharing such private and intimate moments.”

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Jessica McCannon, MD
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“If I had to make decisions for any of them I feel like I would have a solid starting point, and all it took was that one conversation.”

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Kate DeBartolo
National Field Manager, IHI

“This topic has taken over my work and personal life in the best way possible”

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Donald M. Berwick, MD, MPP, President Emeritus and Senior Fellow, Institute for Healthcare Improvement
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“I ended my speech by asking the audience to join me in a pledge, on behalf of my father, to do everything we could to make sure that others would not suffer as he had”

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Susan Block, MD
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“As a doctor-daughter, I wanted to make sure that he wasn’t depressed, to understand his reasons for this change in his goals, and to make sure that he did not suffer.”

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Ira Byock, MD
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“I want to be of some value if and to the extent I can.”

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Lachlan Forrow, MD
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“What if something serious happened, and we didn’t know what you would want the doctors to do?”

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Mark B. Ganz
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“She needed her doctors to listen to her, to understand her personal definition of quality and to respect her end-of-life wishes…”

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Atul Gawande, MD
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“The end comes with no chance for you to have said goodbye or “It’s O.K.” or “I’m sorry” or “I love you.”"

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Paula Johnson, MD
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“I view “the conversation” as conversations about how we wish to lead our lives, both in health and when faced with illness.”

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Phyllis Segal
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“Each experience was horrific in its own unique way, but despite the differences each left me better prepared for the next.”

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Ruth Wooden
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“My siblings and I shared the time together with her and each other — it was her last gift to us.”

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Charlotte S. Yeh, MD
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“So, I did the unthinkable….I let the husband and father go on his own, and not get in his way.”

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Liz Walker
Advisor to The Conversation Project

“She looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘All I want is to stay in my house.’ I knew then I would do everything I could to honor her request.”

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Conversation Ready Pioneers

The Conversation Project is proud to recognize a group of pioneer health care organizations who, along with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, are committed to ensuring that their organizations are "Conversation Ready." Learn about how they're readying themselves to receive and respect people's wishes for end-of-life care here.

Supporters

The Schwartz Center Cummings Foundation

Founding funder

Cambia Health Foundation