Thursday, May 26, 2011

How to Die in Oregon

Whether you refer to the topic as "death with dignity" or "assisted suicide" the fact is the topic is extremely polarizing. What "How to Die in Oregon" shows us is that not only is it a difficult decision for the individual, but also within the family the opinions may differ. Additionally, even those diagnosed with a chronic disease will fall on both sides of the argument. Some may say it is a separation of church and state, while others will view the issue as a public healthcare topic. Watching the documentary made me realize that there isn't a right answer to this topic and the film leaves you asking the question of what side are you on?

Filmmaker Peter Richardson's "How to Die in Oregon" won the grand jury prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. He began his filming in 2007, conducting interviews with several terminally ill Oregonians as well as those in Washington working on Initiative 1000 fighting for the Death with Dignity Act (I-1000).

The documentary follows two main stories with the first being that of Cody Curtis, a Wife and Mother, who has been diagnosed with liver cancer in 2009. The interviews of her family and the growing relationship with her children show how strong someone can be even at their weakest moment. The portrait that is given of the individuals with the terminal illness is that of being at peace. Having the opportunity to get things in order so that you can say goodbye to your loved ones before the quality of life reaches a point where you are not able to take care of yourself. Only the ones that are truly courageous are the ones that are willing to suffer the most. The message that Cody leaves us with is that one doesn't want to subject themselves or family to needless suffering; and that there is dignity in suffering, but also grace in accepting the inevitable.

The second part of the film addresses the state of Washington and the I-1000 campaign being led by the wife of someone that wanted to receive the treatment in Oregon, but was rejected as he didn't qualify for residency. His dying wish was that his wife fight for change in Washington and their story ends with the passing of the initiative in 2008.

Additional sub-elements of the film come from Ray Carnay, an Oregon voice over artist, journalist and radio personality who, post cancer diagnosis, (his voice box was to be removed) asked his doctor for a lethal prescription just in case. He records his eulogy in the studio, and he ultimately died in the hospital from complications from his surgery. There is also the more political element as detailed by Randy Stroup of Dexter, Oregon who is an uninsured Oregonian with prostate cancer that has been denied health care by the state and offered physician-assisted suicide instead.

The documentary aired on HBO on May 26th, but will be available onDemand and will likely play again through this weekend. In memory of those that have suffered through the pain, the documentary receives all 5 Quacks.

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