In her probing analysis and poignant memoir of love, death and politics, Two Weeks of Life, Eleanor Clift has applied her award-winning journalistic expertise to a subject that most people neglect.
Avoidance of end-of-life decision-making was not an option for Clift and her late husband, Tom Brazaitis, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Washington columnist, when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 1999. While facing his passing in 2005, she was also reporting on the controversial Terri Schiavo case in Florida.
At 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy, Clift, a longtime Newsweek White House correspondent and political columnist, will give the second talk of the Contemporary Issues Forum series sponsored by the Chautauqua Women’s Club.
In Washington, Clift has been called upon repeatedly to handle difficult challenges, including covering every presidential election since 1976. She consistently holds her own on television each week doing what most people are afraid of — speaking publicly. But she does so in a particularly rambunctious setting.
Clift provides the sole progressive, liberal voice within “The McLaughlin Group,” an otherwise staunchly conservative panel of pundits.
A trustee of the National Hospice Foundation, Clift has become an advocate of hospice.
“It’s not perfect,” she said. “It has become a multi-billion dollar industry and not everyone is supportive, but I am. Many people will tell you that hospice isn’t a facility; it’s a state of mind. Many people die at home. If the polls are correct, more people want to die at home.”
Her husband made this choice, as have many others with cancer.
As more people are being educated about what it means, and baby boomers are seeing parents suffer, the “aid in dying” movement has been gaining acceptance. In six states, physicians are permitted to write lethal prescriptions for the terminally ill.
“Baby boomers are pushing the issues on this,” Clift said. “They have done everything to be healthy and need to talk about it.”
She pointed to The Conversation Project as an example. Created by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman, the website is dedicated to helping people discuss their preferences for end-of-life care.
“End-of-life is a difficult subject because most people don’t want to deal with it until they have to,” Clift said. “My main message is that we have to take it out of the shadows.”
While raising three boys, now young men, Clift has made complex national issues and events more transparent and kept up with the rapidly changing journalism industry. Not only is she on her toes weekly on “The McLaughlin Group,” but also she blogs for The Daily Beast, writes a column for Washington Merry-Go-Round, and serves on the advisory committee of the International Women’s Media Foundation she co-founded.
In addition to Two Weeks of Life, Clift has written and co-authored several books: Selecting a President: Fundamentals of American Government; Election 2004: How Bush Won and What You Can Expect in the Future; Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment; Madam President: Shattering the Last Glass Ceiling; and War Without Bloodshed: The Art of Politics.
“I’m basically a reporter,” Clift said. “I put stories together that work. And I’m a product of New York public schools. I have learned by doing.”