In the documentary “Being Mortal,” filmmakers followed the case of several individuals with terminal diagnoses.
One such case was that of Sara Monopoli.
Sara was pregnant with her first child when she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She gave birth with collapsed lung because a C-section was too risky.
Her cancer later spread to her thyroid and elsewhere in her body. Her cancer diagnosis was advanced and terminal. Despite this, she received aggressive treatments in hopes of extending her life. In hindsight, her husband and doctors believe that such treatments, though well-intended, may have actually shortened her life. They undoubtedly deteriorated her quality of life—a concept her husband continues to reflect upon.
“I’ve thought often about—what did that cost us? What did we miss out on? What did we forgo by consistently pursuing treatment after treatment after treatment that made her sicker and sicker and sicker?”
On the flip side of the coin, another patient in the film, Jeff Shields, an elderly farmer, was diagnosed with advanced lymphoma. As chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant began to fail, Jeff weighed his options.
Jeff decided that he didn’t want to die in a hospital. Instead, he wanted to die on his farm. Receiving hospice care in his own bed in a room on his farm, Jeff is captured in the documentary spending time with his friends, children, and grandchildren.
When interviewed, Jeff seems almost jubilant.
“The last couple of weeks I’ve been surrounded by family and friends. It’s been terrific. Some of the best days of life, I must say. But then there's a downward trend that's more rapid than I expected. I felt great during that time and my body was in rapid decline. Since then my mind has been in rapid decline. I get confused. But I'm still a happy guy."
Many are faced with the difficult decision to potentially forgo what Jeff called, “a good death” in return for extended life or to forgo a slim chance at living a longer life thanks to potentially harsh treatments.
Though the decision will likely always be one of the most difficult anyone is forced to make, the documentary explores how the culture in medicine has begun to shift away from that of simply attempting to extend life, regardless of its quality, to first and foremost extending the quality of life—however that happens to appear for each patient and their loved ones.
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