Extremis: A Netflix documentary on end of life issues

extremisThis week, a short documentary premiered on Netflix. In less than half an hour, Extremis follows several different patients and their families facing end of life decisions, as well as the doctors caring for them. These people were very brave in allowing the film crew to capture such intimate and heart wrenching moments. Everybody dies. We all know that on an intellectual level, but for most of us it doesn’t become real until we are faced with the undeniable fact that we or someone we love is dying. And with the medical technology available in 21st century hospitals, death can often be postponed. The documentary raises many questions, but perhaps the most crucial one is, What counts as life for you? Continue reading “Extremis: A Netflix documentary on end of life issues”

Worse Than Death?

Recently, a friend of a friend asked me a question about death.  She is a new employee at a hospital in another state.  Though we haven’t seen each other in years, she remembered that I was a chaplain, got my number from our mutual friend, and wanted to talk.  “I’m not a religious person,” she began.  “I’m not even sure I believe in God.  But if there is a God, I need to know if he’ll judge me for this.  I’ve killed three people already.”  Confused, I asked her to explain about these killings.  She told me how she had been the one to remove the breathing tubes and turn off the ventilators for three terminal patients.  “I know it’s my job,” she said.  “And it’s what the families decided to do, and the patients probably would have died anyway.  But they died sooner because of me, you know?  I’m the one who took them off the vent.  They stopped breathing at that moment because of me.  Will God punish me for that?”  I could hear the tremor in her voice.  “I wanted to do this job to help people.  And I do.  I help a lot of people.  But I didn’t count on being the actual instrument of death for some patients, you know?  I don’t know how to deal with that.” Continue reading “Worse Than Death?”