This is a contribution by Michael J. Bernhagen, Co-Producer of “Consider the Conversation:  A Documentary on a Taboo Subject.”

In the weeks leading up to the February 5th, 2011 premiere of our documentary film, Consider the Conversation, Terry Kaldhusdal, and I were scared. We were worried that, if given the opportunity, no one would show up to watch a movie created by a hospice professional and 4th grade teacher, let alone one that examines our struggle with communication and preparation at life’s end.

After all, the country just went through the whole “death panel” debate, right?

Much to our delight, the 755-seat Oconomowoc Arts Center sold out and 100 people were turned away at the door. During the film, one could literally feel the emotion of the audience as it bore witness to the struggle of patients, family members, doctors, nurses, social workers and clergy who care for them at end-of-life. There were moments of complete and utter silence along with laughter, disdain, tears of joy, and ultimately, a standing ovation. The question and answer session that followed ran over the allotted time because there were so many people waiting in line to share their stories. And, by evening’s end, 200 sets of advance directives were picked up in the lobby and 40 people shared their thoughts with us on camera.

For days after the premiere, Terry and I received e-mails from complete strangers who thanked us for giving them permission to talk with their loved ones, clergy and medical providers. Perhaps most impressive was that the CEO and Chief Medical Officer of ProHealth Care, the event underwriter, went public on 2/27 with an announcement that they intend to change their culture and systems in order to deliver better end-of-life care.

But it didn’t end there.

On March 1st the Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject DVD was released on Amazon for personal and educational use. Since that time, individuals and organizations from 5 Canadian provinces, 48 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have purchased the film on DVD and are educating themselves and others.  We’ve also been interviewed on NPR stations in Columbus, Milwaukee and Sacramento and written about in the Huffington Post, Wisconsin State Journal, New York Times, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Encore theatrical presentation/community conversation events have taken place in front of packed houses in Folsom, California and three other Wisconsin cities. And, on June 18th, the film was released to PBS stations nationwide via the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA).  By the end of January, Consider the Conversation will have aired 297 times on 122 PBS stations in 28 states.

It appears we’ve tapped into something our politicians don’t understand. 

Americans DO want to think and talk about their end-of-life wishes. 

They’re just waiting for someone to open the door to that conversation.

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