A 60-minute documentary for PBS Frontline with 2over10 Media. CREDIT: Producer.
Nominated for a News and Documentary Emmy Award, Outstanding Informational Programming – Long Form, 2016. Winner of the Sentinel Award 2015.
Death is something we will all one day face. So why is it so hard for doctors to talk about dying with their patients? And how can the medical profession better help people navigate the final chapters of their lives with confidence, direction and purpose?
Renowned surgeon and New Yorker writer Atul Gawande explored those questions in his bestselling book, Being Mortal (Oct. 7, 2014; Metropolitan Books). Now, Gawande teams with FRONTLINE (PBS) on a Feb. 10, 2015 documentary that brings his personal journey — and the stories of his patients and their families — to life, and that challenges us all to reexamine how we think about death and dying.
“You don’t have to spend much time with the elderly or those with terminal illness to see, over and over and over again, how medicine fails the people it is supposed to help,” says Gawande, who practices at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
“Hope is not a plan,” Gawande adds. “We find from our trials that we are literally inflicting therapies on people that shorten their lives and increase their suffering, due to an inability to come to good decisions.”
Three years in the making, the Being Mortal film explores the relationships between doctors and patients nearing the end of life, and shows how many doctors – including Gawande – struggle to talk honestly and openly with their patients who are dying. From the Indian hometown of Gawande’s father, whose prolonged dying process catalyzed Gawande’s quest to better understand end-of-life care, to the bedsides of patients in Boston who are navigating the ends of their lives, Being Mortal is an intimate and revealing journey with relevance to us all.
The film — directed by Tom Jennings, who previously teamed with Gawande on the 2011 FRONTLINE film Dr. Hotspot — also explores the burgeoning art and science of palliative care, and the ways in which having a conversation around the question “What are your priorities if your time is limited?” can empower patients to live their lives fully.
There will be a multitude of ways to experience Being Mortal: the longform documentary film premiering Feb. 10 on PBS and online, shortform original video on FRONTLINE’s YouTube channel, in-depth FRONTLINE radio features, additional original journalism on FRONTLINE’s website, and Gawande’s book.
All told, the multiplatform Being Mortal project will shine an unprecedented spotlight on how patients, families and doctors all experience the end stages of life, and encourage a national conversation about how to live life to the fullest extent possible.
The ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life — all the way to the very end.
Being Mortal is a FRONTLINE production with 2over10 Media. The writer, producer and director is Tom Jennings. The co-producer is Lauren Mucciolo. The correspondent is Atul Gawande. The deputy executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.