Another palliative care expert chimes in

A friend has sent me an editorial from the San Francisco Chronicle concerning the Jahi McMath and Marlise Munoz cases.  The column, “End of life elusive, thanks to tricks of modern science,” was published last Friday, and was written by Jessica Nutik Zitter, MD, MPH.

Dr. Zitter’s editorials seem to be popping up all over the place these days.  See, for example, her column in the New York Times published several months ago:  “They Call Me ‘Dr. Kevorkian.’”

Her bio at describes her as a “Bay Area physician specializing in critical care and palliative care medicine.”  Following, a few random notes on who she is.

Dr. Zitter was mentored by Pat Murphy, PhD, APN, co-director of a “Promoting Excellence” project funded by Soros’s Project on Death in America and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). (I wrote about Promoting Excellence in a post for LifeTree a number of years ago). Dr. Zitter joined Dr. Murphy’s team, and was listed as a speaker with the team in Impact of a Communication Intervention Around Goals of Care on Racial Disparities in End-of-Life Care in the Intensive Care Unit.  Dr. Murphy’s project was radical in that it introduced palliative care into a hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU).  Ordinarily an ICU is focused on saving lives, whereas palliative care was meant to aid in dying. As such, palliative care was not traditionally part of an ICU service.  As Dr. Murphy’s project drew to a close, a grant report noted that the program would no doubt be self-sustaining, given that “in an inner-city hospital serving a large population of impoverished patients, the cost savings resulting from the team’s interventions should more than pay for the program’s costs.”

From 2004-2010 Dr. Zitter was Medical Director and shareholder of Vital Decisions, LLC, a company she co-founded with her husband Mark Zitter (founder & CEO of Zitter Health Insights) and bioethicist Helen D. Blank, PhD. [Dr. Blank is a veteran of the RWJF/Soros-funded end-of-life projects.  For example, see page 9 of this newsletter.]  Vital Decisions provided telephone counseling “to enhance medical decision-making” for patients with life-limiting illness, but more importantly it promised to reduce “non-beneficial” treatments and cut costs.  Incidentally, given this focus on “fiscal responsibility” it might be tempting to paint Mark Zitter as some sort of right-wing capitalist, but that’s not the case.  In fact, he is a strong financial supporter of the DNC and Obama’s campaign.

At present, Dr. Zitter is an attending physician at Alameda County Medical Center, working with a palliative care service that is largely the result of heavy funding from The California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF — mentioned in a previous post).  CHCF has been pouring money into the Center as part of their effort to move palliative care (and POLST) into all of California’s public hospitals. There, Dr. Zitter is at home, continuing her focus on combining palliative care with the ICU.  Another expert to “share” in our decision-making.

It’s not clear whether Dr. Zitter still has a financial interest in Vital Decisions.  We don’t know what connection, if any, she has to Zitter Health Insights.  It’s also not clear why Dr. Zitter is suddenly the expert on brain death, or why the press seems to think she is the go-to person on the subject (as we see in this Contra Costa Times story a few months ago.)  What is evident is that she was an attentive student of the palliative care (and ethics and rationing) projects funded by Soros and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation a decade ago.