A Good Death: About this series

This series is an opportunity to explore what makes a good end-of-life journey, how attitudes and practices are evolving, and what changes are needed to put palliative care on the public agenda.
Students from the Graduate Program in Journalism at Western, sing at a reception for A Good Death, April 2011. Professor Meredith Levine is on the far left.

The online series A Good Death is a CBC News co-production with students from the Graduate Program in Journalism at Western.

This series is an opportunity to explore what makes a good end-of-life journey, how attitudes and practices are evolving, and what changes are needed to put palliative care on the public agenda. It also shows how, in a world devoted to longevity, we are failing in Canada to meet the needs of the dying.

Students from the Graduate Program in Journalism at Western talk to dying patients, who have become almost invisible in our society, but who they find to be wise teachers as well as being loving, courageous, fearful, witty, mournful, angry, gracious, and always very, very human.

They talk to the caregivers who walk the journey with the dying every day and find ways of giving them a voice about what is often kept silent in our society; end of life and death.

Approximately a quarter of a million Canadians will die this year and only some will experience a good death: a death that is peaceful, loving and comfortable. 

A Good Death seeks to engage the public in a conversation about the state of dying in Canada. According to a 2010 report by the research unit of The Economist news magazine, when it comes to ranking the quality of end-of-life care around the world, Canada is tied with the U.S. in ninth place, well below the UK, New Zealand, Australia and several European countries. 

In Canada, access to quality end-of-life care depends on which community we reside in, the economic class we belong to, our cultural and ethnic origins, our personal belief system and the level of cohesion in our family. 

The stories

Reporters Adela Talbot and Sean Leathong discover that children are among the most underserved in end-of-life care. The health care system is not organized to provide for their needs. Talbot and Leathong interview physicians in the relatively new field of pediatric palliative care and who focus on helping parents and children let go.

Nicole Case explores why doctors have such a hard time discussing dying with their terminal patients, and how that discomfort can cause further stress and harm for patients and their families.

Jared Lindzon looks at access to palliative care across the country and its dependence on private donations.

Bethany Cairns and Mariam Ahmad report on why while most Canadians want to die at home, but few actually do.   

Alex Ballingall spends time with the health care workers specializing in palliative care to see how they cope with the intense emotions of their job.

Music therapist, Jill Kennedy-Tufts, who records the thoughts, songs and prayers of the dying to leave as final gifts to loved ones, is profiled by Angela Richardson.

The physiological and psychological relationship between love and death is described by Lauren Pelley.

Chinese Canadian conceptions of a good death are examined by Fan-Yee Suen. Alineh Haidery explains end-of life customs for Muslim Canadians.

Legal debates about pulling the plug and who gets to decide are examined by Brian Moskowitz. 

Heather Young discovers a variety of definitions of dying and explains why these definitions can make a difference in access to palliative care. 

Edward von Aderkas looks back and provides a fascinating snapshot of how dying has changed in Canada over the past century. 

And Trevor Melanson and Stefanie Masotti bring us up-to-date with an examination of the way social media is influencing how we die today.

Groundbreaking course

A Good Death developed out of a groundbreaking journalism course on dying at the Graduate Journalism Program at Western in London, Ont. As far as can be determined, it is the first such journalism course, anywhere.

The assignment was not easy for the 16  young journalists pursuing these stories. Many logged long hours with the dying, their families, and those who care for them on palliative care wards, homes and hospices in London and surrounding areas.

They asked the questions about death and dying that so many of us want to avoid. 

But the ultimate lesson of A Good Death for all of those involved is just how rich and textured and beautiful the end-of-life journey can be. In the words of palliative care doctor Sharon Baker, "There is so much life at end of life."

The executive producer on this project for the CBC is Mary Sheppard. The executive producer representing Western Journalism is Meredith Levine.

Special thanks to Western Journalism Media Specialists, Wendie Crouch and David Mills, for their contributions.

Special thanks to CBC's Heather Evans and Amina Zafar and the CBC Health Unit, producer Ruby Buiza and the multimedia team under the leadership of Eric Foss. 

The video on a day in the life of Dr. Sharon Baker was produced by Janet Thomson.