Guest post by medical student Barry Bryant. The original article can be found on Closler.org.

“End Game” is an Oscar-nominated short documentary directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. The film takes place at the University of California at San Francisco and incorporates the Zen Hospice Project. The overarching theme of the film is working to provide more compassionate end of life care for patients.

Death as part of the human experience

I found it to be enthralling, as – at whatever point in our lives we care to admit it – death is a reality for us all. It is the great equalizer. The movie addresses death and dying as part of the human experience. Instead of trying to avoid it at all costs (an inherently futile effort), the movie invites us to reflect upon facets of the dying process that can be made more meaningful. These facets include honest and reflective conversations with patients about what dying might be like, investigation into what patients want the end of their life to look like, and examination of how family members can affect a patient’s final days.

What I learned from the movie, as a future doctor, is that there is more to medicine than making diagnoses and prescribing medications for patients. Medical advances with respect to curing diseases have been for the best, but “End Game” reminded me and my classmates that curing disease is not the only end we seek. It refocuses us towards paying attention to the individual patient and framing death in a way that leads to a better life while living. Moreover, the end of treatment is not always extending life as long as possible, but rather doing what we can to help make a patient’s life more whole and complete.

Recognizing the humanity and beauty of final chapters

Finally, “End Game” shows us that doctoring is an art form. It requires using wisdom to counsel patients, as well as humility to let patients help counsel themselves. No one reading or writing this has experienced death, nor have the doctors helping escort patients along their journey. As humans we speculate. We assign meaning. We comfort the dying and we console those who have lost. We empathize with patients, knowing that we have a shared fate. We remain hopeful. We hope that in dying we find greater peace than we have ever known. “End Game” is a documentary about making the transition beautiful, recognizing the humanity that bursts through in one’s final earthly chapter.


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