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Jessica Zitter, M.D. is an expert on the medical experience of death and dying. She attended Stanford University and Case Western Reserve Medical School and is featured in Extremis, an Oscar-nominated documentary about end-of-life decision-making in an ICU. In the first half, she discussed her ideas for a better way to exit life that could change some of the basic tenets of medical culture. Dr. Zitter realized that in many cases, in her attempts to prolong lives, such as by hooking patients up to feeding or breathing tubes, she was actually causing more suffering for them. Because of this she added a new type of medical training– palliative care, to her regular practice at the ICU.
For dying or serious ill patients, the use of medical technology and machinery, or the “End of Life Conveyor Belt,” doesn’t always make sense, but the default medical position has been to keep patients alive at all costs, she pointed out. A good death is “what is most in line with a particular person’s preferences and values,” she continued, and that’s why we need to be communicating a lot more about the issue. Death and end-of-life decisions are seen as a taboo subject, and like sex education, they should be brought more out in the open and taught in schools, she advocated.
She cited the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco as a good example of making dying patients’ lives as high quality as possible. Zitter talked about POLST, a binding physician’s order dealing with life sustaining treatments, and advised patients who do not want life to receive treatments such as a respirator, to sign one of these documents in advance. She also spoke about witnessing the phenomenon of dying patients seemingly hanging on until they receive their loved ones’ permission to pass.
Open Lines were featured in the latter half, with a number of callers sharing accounts of deaths of their loved ones. Todd from Manitoba, Canada spoke about his suffering as a victim of the secretive MK-ULTRA project. A security guard from North Bend, Oregon, posed the interesting question– what if everything that was ever talked about on C2C all came true and was revealed on the same day? Jim in Spencer, Iowa expressed concern that even if we protected the grid, an EMP attack or event could still fry electrical transformers and devices.