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PBS Offering Social Workers Early Viewing of “Facing Death”

A scene from "Facing Death" on PBS.

PBS’s “Frontline” turned to the National Association of Social Workers to help build online educational resources for their new film, “Facing Death.” The film visits New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center to examine how patients and their families make end-of-life decisions.

“Facing Death” will air on Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. Eastern on PBS (check local listings) but PBS posted the entire film online for social workers and others to view. To watch click here and let us know what you think.

The PBS online resource guide that includes NASW’s information should be posted by the end of this week. Frontline staff consulted with Chris Herman, MSW, LICSW, NASW’s senior practice associate for aging, about the online guide.

 Social workers have an important role in helping clients identify end-of-life options available to them. They provide such services in a variety of settings, including in-home care, nursing homes, hospitals, courts, schools and even prisons. For more information, visit NASW’s “Help Starts Here” Death and Dying Web page by clicking here and advance care planning guide by clicking here. NASW also has Standards for Palliative & End of Life Care that you can read by clicking here.

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  1. Please communicate with your loved one, the doctors/nurses & all medical staff about the condition of your loved one, do not allow them to make the final life or death decision. Know & respect your loved one’s wishes & have a health care durable power of attorney (proxy) form on file. I believe once it is clear that there is absolutely nothing more that can be done & they begin entering into the end of life stages it is best not to prolong a loved one’s suffering. I believe from personal/professional experience that when a loved one & family members do everything that is medically possible to beat the odds & the patient is not responding to treatment any more all aggressive treatment should cease. At this point the most humane & loving thing to do is help your loved once accept their death, make your loved one comfortable, talk to them, hold their hand, pray & listen to Godly music as you wait for them too step into eternity. I know from personal experience with my loved one as well as professional experience that not prolonging the inevitable is compassionate, loving, and ethical once all measures have been completely exhausted.

  2. As I viewed the documentary, “Facing Death,” I empathized with the plight of family members struggling to make hard decisions on behalf of their loved ones. No one wants to be put in the position of having to make this tough decision, so it is important that family members encourage their loved ones to complete a durable power of attorney for healthcare and a living will.
    The documentary did an outstanding job of articulating that. The commentary from medical professionals and family members was a very compelling argument for both sides. However, as a future social worker, I was disappointed the documentary did not include commentary from an important part of the medical team–the medical/hospice social worker. Social workers play a vital role in supporting family members with empathy and compassion as they struggle to make these tough decisions.

  3. I think they could have picked a better time of year to promote “Facing Death” since the holidays are the most depressing times. but is is great that someone is getting the sensitivity factor out there for the healthcare and people around …the person dealing with their own mortality. This is just the wrong time of year to be dealing with such a heavy matter although death happens daily in some of our work and we do have to console families on the life changing decisions they have to make. Everyone is different and that consideration needs to be person centered.

  4. The film is great. I do however have concerns that a social worker was not part of the film. I feel that often times the social worker is and should be a huge part of the process in such situations.

  5. Overall, I am pleased with the issues raised in this documentary. Obviously, from a social worker’s perspective, I am disappointed that social workers were not included in this story. I am also disappointed at the lack of pastoral care involvement. However, as a social worker who does end-of-life counseling in a large teaching hospital, I can relate to the stories played out in this film. It is unfortunate that NASW was only contacted AFTER the film was made. There were many communication issues with which I struggled throughout the film, including the language of “do nothing.” This needs to be beaten out of every healthcare professional….there is ALWAYS something we can do for a living human being. I also think the social worker can help reframe the decisions beign made….the doctor in one scene was clearly struggling with putting families in the position of “life or death” decisions….what we can do as sw is to help reframe that decision. The decision becomes not if the pt lives or dies, but how this part of the journey…the end…should look that fits in best with patient values. In what kind of setting with how many tubes? I am lucky to work at a hospital that has a palliative care unit and can offer a better option.
    Social workers also need to be involved in these family meetings, where the goals of care shift from cure to comfort. Helping doctors understand where to have a family meeting (not over the pt’s bed!), your own body language and recognizing family styles of communication can be invaluable to the team in understanding how to help the family fully understand the complexities. How quality of life is defined varies dramatically in each family, but there is a fine line between autonomy, informed consent, futility, and separation of goals of care from interventions. It is no one’s goal to live an indeterminate length of time on artificial life support in an ICU. My heart wrenched to see that woman who has been on vent support for more than a year now…I have also had patients like this. Is this really what they would want? And at whose expense? Nobody wants to address the money issues, but they are there.

    I think the film was very valuable….I hope it raises some questions and makes people talk…

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