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End Game (Netflix documentary on Palliative Care)

You’ve been dealt a hand of cards. We could wish we had different cards, or we could play a different game, but this is where we are now.

That’s what palliative care specialist Dr. Steve Pentilat tells the defiant family of a dying middle-aged wife and mother in the prodigious new documentary on Netflix, End Game.

The 40-minute Netflix short directed by Oscar-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman focuses on a handful of San Francisco Bay Area families grappling with disease, death and denial.

Among the patients we meet: Thekla, a terminally ill senior anxious about life after death; Bruce, a severely underweight man who enrolled in Dr. B.J. Miller’s revolutionary Zen Hospice after stopping dialysis; and Pat, whose womb is a “cancerous mess.”

Most of the film, however, focuses on an Iranian-American family making a home of sorts in the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center as they struggle to accept that 45-year-old Mitra is dying.

Mitra, devoted wife to Hamid and mother to 8-year-old Aaron, doesn’t have much time left. Her cancer is incurable and she’s in a lot of pain. She cannot walk and is seldom lucid.

Her care team is compassionate but firm with the family: Mitra will die, they patiently explain, and aggressive, even experimental treatments won’t save her.

Executive producer Dr. Shoshana Ungerleider, a hospice and palliative care physician, advocate and philanthropist, said she’s inspired by Mitra and Hamid.

“She’s quite sick, it’s pretty close to the end, and Mitra’s husband is hugging her and kissing her in such a normal, real way,” Ungerleider told Life Matters Media. “It’s a beautiful depiction of their love for each other, and his incredible support of her.”

End Game, with its lean running time, doesn’t exploit Mitra and isn’t syrupy.

End Game isn’t an easy watch, but it’s a film America needs.

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