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Communication at the End of Life


Jon F. Nussbaum, Howard Giles and Amber Worthington

Communication is at the heart of any complete understanding of the end of life. While it is true that individuals physically die as a single entity, the process of ending an individual life is located within a complex system of relationships and roles connected and constructed through communicative processes. In this volume, top scholars from numerous disciplines showcase the latest empirical investigations and theoretical advances that focus on communication at the end of life. This multi-contextual approach serves to integrate current findings, expand our theoretical understanding of the end of life, prioritize the significance of competent communication for scholars and practitioners, and provide a solid foundation upon which to build pragmatic interventions to assist individuals at the end of life as well as those who care for and grieve for those who are dying. This book is suitable for undergraduate and graduate courses in Death and Dying, Communication and Aging, Health Communication, Life Span Development, Life Span Communication, Long term care, Palliative care and Social Work.
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Chapter Five: Mass Media Depictions of the Dying Process



Mass Media Depictions OF THE Dying Process


Perhaps the single most powerful example of the role the media plays in public perceptions of the end-of-life experience (EOL) occurred in 2014 when Brittany Maynard documented her decision to end her life after being diagnosed with cancer. She was diagnosed with stage IV glioblastoma (GBM)—a type of brain cancer that spreads quickly, is extremely difficult to treat, and is relatively uncommon among younger adults. In the U.S., approximately 12,000 people are diagnosed with GBM annually and the median age of those who die of GBM is 71. At the time of her diagnosis and at the time of her death, Maynard was only 29 years old. Maynard moved to Oregon with her husband so that she could legally end her life under Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, but not before she documented her EOL experience in a series of YouTube videos. These videos have been watched by tens of millions of viewers. Many social critics and pundits have credited Brittany with bringing the right-to-die movement back to the forefront of the public’s consciousness. While the ultimate impact of Maynard’s documentary efforts are not known, a growing body of research examining media portrayals of the EOL experience has emerged. This chapter reviews that literature and discusses the implications of such portrayals on audience attitudes toward death and dying. ← 77 | 78 →


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