Director: Dan Krauss
View on: Netflix
*Note: This post is part of a series I am writing on the 2017 Oscar nominees for best documentary short.
This was not an easy documentary to watch, and I imagine for anyone who has or has had a family member in need of machines to keep them alive this would be even more difficult to watch. Extremis explores the tough moral choices family members and doctors are forced to make when a person becomes so sick or injured that they can’t live without breathing tubes or respirators.
Family members and doctors are forced to try to determine what the person would want, which is not always evident. Some family members want to end suffering as soon as possible. Others believe that miracles happen and want to hold on for as long as possible. One patient featured doesn’t have any family to talk to who would have any idea what his wishes were, or to be with him as he died. To me, his story was one of the toughest to watch.
The main doctor featured in the film is a palliative care specialist whose job is to work with families and patients in determining when to turn off machines, which typically means that the patient will not live for much longer. The doctor essentially acts as a guide to family members, determining what she thinks is the best course of action and talking that through with family members in a sensitive way. You can see how much she cares, and particularly when the family does not agree with her assessment.
Extremis explores an issue that no one wants to talk about, but everyone really should think about.
So what can you do? End-of-life care is a very personal thing. For me, the most important thing to do is learn more about it and to have conversations with my family members so that if I am ever faced with this situation I know what my family would want. And also so that my family knows what I would want. One website I’ve come across that has some good information is called Supportive Care Matters. The site has information on support services for patients and caregivers, making your wishes known, and insurance and financial assistance.