A Conversation with Ellen Goodman

Posted on 01/09/2013

At The End of Life:  Ellen Goodman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and activist. After her mother’s death, Goodman, co-founded The Conversation Project—an organization “dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.”The Conversation Project recently launched a campaign to give the Gift of Conversation, where you can print or email an invitation to start end-of-life talks with loved ones. Interview conducted by Robyn Jodlowski.


When I was moving through The Conversation Project’s starter kit, I was struck by how gentle the language was and how that made the conversation seem so easy to have. How was that document developed?

I came together with a group of colleagues and friends—who are doctors, care providers, clergy, media—and we began telling our stories of “good deaths” and “bad deaths” within our own circle of loved ones.

We talked about being faced with a cascading and confusing number of medical decisions where our uncertainty about the wishes of our parents, spouses and friends was a challenge. Since then, we have begun collecting similar stories from others—old and young, sick and well, siblings and friends, parents and children. These stories make it clear that having a timely conversation about one’s preferences for care towards the end of life can be an important predictor of a “good death”—one that respects those personal wishes. From these discussions came the ideas that spurred how the starter kit should look, feel and the information it should contain.

We wanted the language to be more human than medical and we wanted it to feel as easy as possible because this can be an intimate and hard conversation. People who use the kit do find it simple, user-friendly, and tell us that they have had some of the best conversations with their loved ones of their whole lives.

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