A strong piece of documentary work by the great Frederick Wiseman.
Like all wiseman documentaries it has no narration, it just lets the subject speak for itself.
Near death is part of a series of documentaries by Wiseman depicting what Michel Foucault and Erving Goffman would call sometime afterwards “total institutions”. Institutions such as schools (“High School), prisons, mental institutions (Titcut Follies) and of course, hospitals, especially the intensive care units.
Whereas the previous works by Wiseman showed these institution’s and the problems that made them impossible to function properly, in “Near Death” it shows an institution that no matter what is impossible to function properly due to the very nature of its work. In one part a staff member asks
“are we trying to save these people or are we just managing their deaths?”
Now a description taken from allmovie.com
A six-hour chronicle of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, it focuses on families, patients, doctors, nurses, religious advisor’s, and hospital staffers confronting personal, ethical, medical, psychological, religious and legal issues about death and the decisions that must be made about continuing the life-sustaining treatment of dying patients. Janet Maslin (New York Times) wrote that “the film has time to carry its audience from an initially raw emotional response to a calmer consideration of the difficult issues raised here, and finally on to some sort of resolution.”