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Netflix Documentary Explores End Of Life-Decision-Making

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

Jessica Nutik Zitter is featured in the upcoming Netflix documentary “Extremis."
Jessica Nutik Zitter is featured in the upcoming Netflix documentary “Extremis.”

Netflix’ first documentary short will explore end of life-decision-making.

Extremis is set to debut globally in September on the popular Internet-streaming service. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and was shown at the San Francisco International Film Festival on Saturday.

Directed by Academy Award and Emmy Award-nominated filmmaker Dan Krauss, it will focus on the “harrowing decisions” that doctors, families and seriously ill patients often face at the end of life. Krauss, according to a press statement, was granted extraordinary access to the intensive care unit of an Oakland, Calif., hospital.

The 24-minute film aims to provide an “intimate look at the intersection of science, faith, and humanity” by drawing on stories of ordinary people grappling with death.

“I strive to explore weighty ethical and moral questions through my films,” said Krauss in a statement. “Doctors today can sustain life in ways once thought impossible, ushering in new and extremely complex questions about what it means for critically ill people to be kept alive. I hope audiences will take courage from the incredible dignity and compassion that the film’s subjects displayed amidst the most challenging circumstances.”

Jessica Nutik Zitter, a critical care and palliative care physician at Highland Hospital and featured in Extremis, published an essay in The New York Times about caring for a dying homeless woman in the ICU. Even though the woman was found near death, first responders and clinicians worked to keep her alive, despite little chance for cure or recovery.

Nutik Zitter put a stop to it, instead offering the patient as much comfort as possible.

“These well-meaning doctors had been taught that the priority was curing the disease, and hadn’t yet thought of treating symptoms,” she writes. “And so often, when a patient is actively dying, I must hold myself and my residents back, quiet our itchy fingers, and acknowledge that we find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of waiting for nature to take its course.”

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