Thanks to Charles Sullivan. The documentary on assisted suicide in Oregon, “How to die in Oregon” has just won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Charles also points us to the following review of the film in the New York Times:
Unflinching End-of-Life Moments
PARK CITY, Utah — Most screenings at the Sundance Film Festival here are mob scenes — half-frozen film lovers in a mad dash for limited seating, reporters skittering around in search of news nuggets, agents pacing the aisles.
None of that hubbub was on display at the Sunday premiere of what is without question one of the most difficult-to-watch movies of the festival, this year or any year: “How to Die in Oregon,” a documentary from Peter D. Richardson about physician-assisted suicide. The film opens with a man dying of cancer on camera.
Read more ….
As someone who faced, unflinchingly, the harsh reality of holding in my arms someone I loved more than life itself as she was dying, this is so very important. I have often flinched in the years since that day in June 2007, and could never have done what I did without Elizabeth’s good humour and courage in the face of death, but it is good to see that these issues are being taken seriously and addressed with compassion.
Assistance in dying is almost universally opposed by religion, and it is one of the main reasons why I no longer profess a religious faith. The review tells us that people find it difficult to watch this film:
“Nobody wants to stare death in the face, and that’s the reason nobody wants to see this film,” Ms. Nevins said over breakfast at the nearby Canyons Ski Resort. “Don’t get me wrong — it’s very harsh, a very hard watch. But ultimately it’s an important film about courage, about dignity, about compassion.”
If that is what they feel about a film about assisted dying, where people’s choices are honoured, what would they feel about a film about the incredible suffering that some people are forced, by religious believers and their fears, to endure? I have been at the bedside of many people as they died. I have only seen one that I would have called a peaceful death, other than Elizabeth’s. In all the others people experienced everything from moderate to severe distress to intolerable pain and existential despair. In my judgement, not one person in all those years experienced faith as a comfort or source of consolation, and not one felt that their faith was strengthened by the experience of dying. Religion is about the fear of death, not about death itself. When once you come to die, faith is cast away, or held onto for the sake of loved ones only. It will not touch you as you die.
The course of the film follows Cody Curtis’s path towards death from liver cancer, and shows her being helped to die. (One of the worst deaths I witnessed, incidentally, was someone dying of liver cancer.) Her husband said this:
Stan Curtis said. “My wife understood the meaning of her own life,” he said. “It seems like a story about dying, but actually it is very much a story about living.”
Absolutely. This is what comes out so clearly at the end. The person is saying: “I know what my life has been about, and in that meaning, this is the way I know it ends.” Elizabeth said it in almost those words, and this is why she felt it was so important that I should contribute to the increasing number of voices that are insisting that the religions not have the last word about dying. Life has no meaning, if we cannot choose the end. (I should add here, parenthetically, that this does not mean that one must choose to receive assistance in dying, but the option must be there.)
Thank you Charles.