Jessica Zitter, MD is featured in a compelling Oscar nominated documentary about difficult decisions.

Extremis, released in September 2016 is available to be streamed from Netflix.

This film is about the effort to make treatment decisions for patients who are gravely or terminally ill.  Dr. Zitter and others struggle to determine what a patient wants and then help the family make their best decision.  It is an elegant display of a caring physician and other health care providers attempting to do their best while knowing that providing more interventions can extend life but enhance suffering.

A review of this film in the Journal of the American Medical Association  (Jan 17, 2017 volume 317, number 3) states the following: “… many Americans will encounter end of life decision making – not as an active choice but, passively, with little or no opportunity to influence the decision or the outcome.” (pg 241).  This statement makes it clear that very sick patients can lose their voice in their health care.

Extremis is a stark and deeply moving testimony to the importance of deciding what you want and “having the conversation” with your family, doctor, and health care agent (Medical Proxy).  It illustrates the difficulty of making choices when there have not been adequate conversations and when there is an urgency to make decisions.

Dr. Zitter has also written a memoir Extreme Measures – Finding a Better Path to the End of Life which is to be published in February of 2017.  (Penguin)

Much of this film focuses on two patients who end up with different decisions with regard to breathing machines.  After viewing, try to decide what your choices would be if you were either of these patients.  Then show the film to your loved ones and proxy and have a conversation.  Begin by asking them what they would choose if they were one of these patients, followed by sharing your choices.

Take note of the ICU setting in which this drama plays out.  These units provide the most aggressive highest level of care that may: (1) save your life, (2) extend it without any improvement in the quality, (3) extend it and permanently decrease the quality of your life, or (4) possibly  result in your death.  What would you choose? 

 

 

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