Tishkofet adopts US campaign to teach family members how to say goodbye

"The Conversation Project" by journalist Ellen Goodman to be promoted by NGO that counsels patients and their families.

A room stands empty at Hadassah-University Medical Center. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A room stands empty at Hadassah-University Medical Center.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Based on a US campaign to help families talk with dying loved ones, an Israeli organization that helps seriously or terminally ill patients and their families cope will adapt the program here.
Tishkofet – known in English as Life’s Door – will use its 250 volunteers around the country to promote Ellen Goodman’s “Conversation Project.” The Pulitzer- prize-winning American journalist initiated it after her mother died without discussing sensitive topics with her.
“We will be making the tool available on our website in Hebrew and eventually in Russian and Arabic,” said Tishkofet founder and president Prof. Ben Corn, a leading oncological radiologist at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center who runs the organization with his wife, Dvora (Phyllis). “We are training our professional staff and our volunteers to facilitate the use of the Conversation Project. We will be preparing to do community- based workshops that explain and encourage people to take part.”
The hope, explained Corn, is that “this will bring about a greater awareness to talk about important issues as well as giving people the ability to express to those who care about them what is important to them in relation to illness and end-of-life decisions in a relaxed and supportive environment, rather than under pressure.”
Tishkofet will hold its annual fund-raising dinner at 7 p.m. on Sunday at Avenue in Airport City.
Only a few decades ago, there was less need for such a project because people had a shorter life expectancy and usually died suddenly of a heart attack or stroke.
But today, with cancer, Alzheimer’s and other chronic diseases taking their toll, many people die later, with disability and an inability to make their own decisions.
Goodman told The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview from Boston that her project is spread by word of mouth and in the electronic media in English, Spanish and French. But Israel is the first country outside the US where it will be adopted.
“Relatives shouldn’t discuss these issues with their loved ones in the intensive care unit but over their kitchen table, before it reaches that stage. Over 100,000 people have downloaded our Starter Kit, which we worked on for a year, to learn how to broach these painful subjects and how to enter serious discussions,” she said. It can be downloaded at http://theconversationproject.org.
Eighty-eight organizations in 25 US states have become part of the Conversation-Ready Initiative, she said. “There’s also information on how to speak to the doctor; many are either afraid to approach the subject, or patients are fearful about raising the subject with the doctor,” Goodman continued.
“The difficulties vary from country to country and from culture to culture.”
She first thought of the matter when her mother, who died in 2008 at the age of 92, developed dementia several years before her death. She was then no longer to make her own decisions. “During her last years of life, she was no longer able to decide what she wanted for dinner, let alone what she wanted for medical treatment.
So the decisions fell to me. Another bone marrow biopsy? A spinal tap? Pain treatment? Antibiotics? I was faced with cascading decisions for which I was wholly unprepared,” Goodman recalled.
“After all the years I had written about these issues, I was still blindsided by the inevitable.
Before that, she talked about everything except this,” said the journalist, wife, mother and grandmother.
“Many people have made out living wills, but these usually involve strictly medical decisions, such as whether and when to pull the plug” on a respirator. “Our starter kit is about values, what matters to you – not what’s the matter with you – and whom you want to make decisions. Without it, many people die in a way they didn’t choose, and many survivors feel guilty that they didn’t do the right thing. It’s important that all the surviving children agree and offer comfort to each other rather than argue,” she said.
Goodman has spent most of her career chronicling social change and its affect on American life.
She was one of the first women to write for the op-ed pages where she became, according to Media Watch, the most widely syndicated progressive columnist in the US. After working as a researcher for Newsweek magazine, she became a reporter for the Detroit Free Press in 1965 and two years later came to The Boston Globe, where she began writing her column in 1974. In 1980, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary, and she has written seven books.