Death Radio: Dr. Ruth Meets Car Talk

From Death Cafes to conscious dying and California’s new assisted dying law, death seems to be a topic on everyone’s mind.

In what is evidently the nation’s first radio show to explore death on a regular basis, Dying to Talk begins its weekly run this Sunday at 8 a.m. on San Francisco’s KALW 91.7. The show also streams online.

Host Dr. Dawn Gross will interview actor Justin Baldoni, creator of the three-part viral documentary series My Last Days, which profiles patients facing a terminal illness.

“It’s loosely-veiled about death, but it’s really about living,” says Gross of the documentary series, which echoes the approach to her own show. “You don’t have to be dying to live. We all have the ability to be fully alive right now. Let’s not procrastinate.”

A hospice care physician, Gross was then invited to become part of the palliative care team at UC San Francisco and is also a member of the Palliative Care Committee at San Francisco’s Department of Aging & Adult Services.

Her biography calls her “uniquely qualified to lead a cultural revolution on end of life care.”

Gross compares her pioneering show to the early days of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the 4’7” sex therapist with the German accent who became a cultural icon in the 1980s by discussing sex with refreshing candor and humor.

“Dr. Ruth meets Car Talk” is how Gross humorously describes her new show.

She says death was a taboo topic during her medical education at Tufts University.

“In my generation of training we never talked about this,” she says. “That was completely off the radar. And it’s far from being mandatory (today). It seems to be a blind spot in medicine.”

Gross jokes that obstetrics and gynecology apply to just 50 percent of the population, while death “has 100 percent penetrance.”

On her second Sunday show, October 9, Gross will interview Brad Wolfe, the energetic creative producer for design firm IDEO, who is the brainchild behind the groundbreaking event “Death Week” to be held in San Francisco the week before Halloween.

On Sunday, October 30 – the day before Halloween – Gross will host a community conversation about death.

“One of the mistakes we make in medicine is assuming that (patients’) number one, two, three and four goals is to live forever,” said Gross at the Endings Matter conference sponsored by San Francisco’s Institute on Aging in May. “And it’s not true.”

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