Stanford Center for
Biomedical Ethics

About Bioethics and Film

Vision of the Program in Bioethics and Film

Founded in 1998 by award-winning filmmaker and physician, Maren Grainger-Monsen, the Program in Bioethics and Film creates films and education programs that touch people emotionally and intellectually to cause them to think deeply about important issues in healthcare and improve care. Grainger-Monsen has developed a singular style of interweaving documentary footage with haunting imagery and sound to create visually, intellectually and emotionally stirring documentaries that cross traditional boundaries to engage a wide audience — from medical students and healthcare providers to the general public.  

Impact and Scope of Work

Grainger-Monsen’s most recent work, Hold Your Breath, is a haunting documentary that exposes the tragic consequences of cross-cultural miscommunication. This dramatic face off between ancient Islamic traditions and contemporary medical technology follows the dramatic journey of an Afghan refugee family, as cultures collide over medical treatment of their father’s illness. The film, which is scheduled for national broadcast on PBS in Spring 2007, has attracted national media attention, including a Newsweek cover story and a story on ABC World News Tonight with the late Peter Jennings. Screenings have received overwhelmingly positive responses in diverse community settings across the nation, often followed by the film’s implementation as an educational and cultural bridge-building tool.

Hold Your Breath evolved out of Grainger-Monsen’s last project, Worlds Apart, a series of four short films, produced for medical education, that explore cultural conflicts over medical treatment. Shot in patients' homes, neighborhoods, and places of worship, hospital wards and community clinics, Worlds Apart provides a penetrating look at both the patient's culture and the culture of modern medicine.  The success of the series is evidenced by its use in over 50 medical schools, 353 residency programs and medical centers, and 180 colleges and universities, as well as libraries and other health-related educational institutions across the country: over 695 institutions nationwide.  Winner of several prestigious awards, including a silver Hugo in Medical and Dental Science at the Chicago International Film Festival and a silver medal at the Health and Science Communications Association 30th Annual International Media Festival, Worlds Apart has had a tremendous local and national impact on increasing cultural sensitivity and improving health care for racially and ethnically diverse patients.

The Vanishing Line, a feature documentary broadcast nationally on PBS’ award winning POV series, poses the question:  “When does life become a fate worse than death?”  An intensely personal look at sustaining life at any cost, the film takes Dr. Grainger-Monsen on a quest to discover the "art of dying" in a world that taught her how to prolong life, but offered few prescriptions for treating death.  The film received numerous awards including a National Emmy Award nomination, First Place at the Nashville Independent Film Festival, and Program of the Year, National Hospice Organization.

Grainger-Monsen’s other films include Where the Highway Ends: Rural Healthcare in Crisis, which won a regional Emmy Award, and Grave Words, which was awarded first place in the American Medical Association Film Festival.


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