Talking About How You Want To Die Before It’s Too Late

Posted on 08/13/2012

All Things Considered, WBUR Boston

Sacha Pfeiffer

BOSTON — Death isn’t something most of us want to spend much time thinking about. But Ellen Goodman would like to change that. You probably know her as a former Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Boston Globe, but since she retired from the paper about three years ago she’s co-founded a project meant to encourage people — young and old — to talk about how they want to die before it’s too late.

Goodman says she didn’t have that conversation before her mother’s decline and death last year. “My mother was unable to decide for herself what she wanted for lunch, let alone what she wanted for medical care,” Goodman recalled. “And so it fell to me to make medical decisions for her.”

That got Goodman and some of her colleagues to start sharing and collecting stories of what they call “good deaths” and “bad deaths.” Their story-gathering has grown into The Conversation Project, described as “estate planning for the soul.” When Goodman spoke with WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer, she explained how she defines a “good death.”

Ellen Goodman: I would say it’s, among other things, a pain-free death, and one in which you are not subjected to the kinds of aggressive care that you would choose not to be. We know that 70 percent of people want to die at home. And we know that 70 percent of people are dying in institutions, hospitals and, God help us, ICUs. So I would say a good death is dying in the way that you would choose, whatever it is.

To read or listen to the full interview click here.