Every year, I try to watch the Oscar-nominated documentary short films, and every year I’m met with a brick wall of five shorts that are invariably devastating on a wide range of subjects. Rape, child soldiers, homelessness, cancer, abuse — these are good films, but the accumulated impact of five of them at a time is flattening. I always wonder if, taken one at a time, they’d have less of an impact. After watching Netflix‘s Extremis — a 24-minute documentary about intensive hospital care and end-of-life decisions that I would not at all be surprised to see as an Oscar nominee come January — the answer to that question is a resounding “No.” Extremis needs no outside help to knock the wind out of you.

Director Dan Krauss smartly focuses on one intensive-care unit and mostly on two patients — Donna and Selena — who have been brought in and placed on breathing machines. Extremisisn’t an issue doc. It’s not straining to make a point or push an agenda. But the conflicts and issues are real. There are the doctors who are in the position where everything they know medically (these patients are not going to live) butts up against a different kind of care, one that has to take into account the patient, their family, and the kind of end-of-life decisions that don’t necessarily have much basis in medical fact. These aren’t rubes they’re dealing with either. One patient’s daughter speaks with great clarity about the dilemma she and her family are facing. That making the decision to stop breathing machines would feel like taking an active role in their mother’s death. The son of another patient tearfully tells a doctor that he needs to be able to tell his mother he tried everything and explored every option, and you get the sense he’s mostly talking about needing to tell himself. (…) Read Full Publication Here

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