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Life Ongoing

A film by Tomi Kufel

     Tomi Kufel is a senior at Loyola Marymount University and is majoring in Film and Television Production”. On Friday, December 2, 2022, The Bioethics Institute and SFTV jointly screened a short film created and directed by Tomi entitled “Life Ongoing” in the Ahmanson Auditorium to a group of students and faculty. Following the screening, Tomi was joined by Suni M, an actor who depicts the character “Phoebe” in the film, and Dr. Alex Zambrano, an instructor in LMU’s Philosophy department and Bioethics Institute, to answer audience questions about the film’s inspiration, production and themes.  In the Q&A session Tomi shared that his film was inspired in part by an Introduction to Bioethics Tomi took in the fall of 2020. He was particularly interested in exploring ethical questions and issues that emerge in end-of-life treatment. 

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Tomi Kufel, Suni M., Dr. Alex Zambrano talking
Tomi Kufel, Suni M., Dr. Alex Zambrano talking

     Life Ongoing”specifically focuses on the withdrawal of life-sustaining medical treatment in cases where patients are either diagnosed as being comatose or “brain dead” – a condition where a patient has permanently and irreversibly lost all brain function. The film begins with Phoebe and Clementine, the main couple in the film, shopping in a grocery store. As soon as they exit the store, Phoebe collapses and is rushed to a hospital where Clementine is then informed by an emergency room physician that Phoebe is in an irreversible coma and that she must decide whether to continue or suspend life-sustaining treatment, in this case, whether to keep Phoebe on a ventilator. Clementine is then shown sitting at Phoebes bedside, returning home and sleeping in their bed alone reminiscing about all of the memories she has had with Phoebe. When asked about this portion of the film after the screening, Tomi said that these clips of Clementine’s grieving were used to portray that the decision of withdrawing treatment is not just black and white. Rather, there are a variety of emotions and thoughts that are important in making this very difficult decision and it should not be treated as something someone does out of pure reason or with no thought at all. At the end of the film, Clementine is seen making the decision to withdraw treatment and says a final goodbye to Phoebe. Another important aspect that Tomi highlighted was that there was no indication on how long it took Clementine to reach the decision to withdraw treatment. This is to emphasize that grieving and making the decision to withdraw end-of-life treatment does not occur in a set time frame, but only when the person is ready to make the decision for themselves.

Tomi Kufel, Suni M., Dr. Alex Zambrano talking
Tomi Kufel and Suni M. talking

     In the Q&A section Tomi also discussed   other subtle aspects of the film that he wanted viewers to pay specific attention to. While the film’s main purpose  was to show how emotionally difficult the decision is to withdraw treatment is, there were other themes in the film that were also important. Tomi said that he wanted his film to be applicable in five and  even ten years from now, and with the ever-evolving views of our society, this is one of the reasons that he chose for Phoebe and Clementine to be in a lesbian, intercultural and interreligious relationship. Tomi also  omitted certain details in order for viewers to better relate to the film and to come to their own conclusions. The film does show what happened to Phoebe to put her in a coma and there is a scene where Clementine explains why she decided it was the right time to withdraw treatment. These omissions of detail were strategically used to allow the viewers to come to their own resolutions have their own emotions about the film. Overall, it is a wonderfully made film that truly encapsulates the way that many bioethical decisions contain a lot more nuance and complexity than many people first see.

This article was written by bioethics  undergraduate intern Giselle Alrachid and edited by Dr. Nicholas Brown.

Giselle Alrachid is a junior in the class of 2024, she is a Biology Major and Bioethics Minor in the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering.

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