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February 23, 2012

How to Die in Oregon

by Franz Patrick


How to Die in Oregon (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

In 1994, Oregon was the first state in the United States to legalize physician-assisted suicide. “How to Die in Oregon,” directed by Peter Richardson, took the issue of euthanasia and cogently argued that although one should always question whether he or she should go through it, it should never be feared. In other words, choosing to die needed to be a practical decision. Its first few minutes instantly grabbed my attention. We watched Sue Porter, one of the most active Compassion & Choices volunteer in the state, handing a glass filled with white liquid to an elderly man. Surrounded by his family, the man took the glass, gulped the substance, and claimed it tasted “woody.” Before he slipped into a coma, he expressed his gratitude and love for his family. There was a calmness among everyone as it happened. Though I was far from calm, I understood that perhaps the passing was harmonious because the sick man had accomplished everything he felt he needed to do before choosing to end his life. I liked that the film didn’t result to extremes in order to get its points across. The subject was polemical enough; there was no use in creating a bigger chasm between those who supported the issue and those who didn’t. Instead, it spent its time explaining the main differences between physician-assisted suicide and Death with Dignity Act. The former involved a doctor physically putting a substance into his patient’s body while the latter allows the patient to administer the drug into himself. I admired the film because the director unwaveringly treated the issue and those dealing with it, voluntary or otherwise, with respect. Those who argued against Death With Dignity Act were not portrayed as crazy people who shouted obscenities against supporters during a rally. Their concerns needed to be addressed and their questions should be answered. The film followed two women who had a lot of fight in them. First, there was Nancy Niedzielski who promised her husband before he died that she would help legalize Death with Dignity in Washington state. He died naturally from a brain and spinal cord cancer and all the pain and suffering that came with it. One of the most shocking details in his battle was his change in appearance in a span of one year. He looked pretty young a year before his body succumbed to the disease. Days before his passing, he looked like an eighty-year-old man. Second, there was Cody Curtis, a fifty-four-year-old woman with a pear-sized tumor on her liver. We watched her change from exuding so much life up to when she decided her life was no longer worth living. It felt very personal because we went to her doctor’s appointments, got to know her family, and discovered some of the things she needed and wanted to do before she died. I thought she and her family were very brave. Cody’s enthusiasm and strength reminded me of my mom. If my mom had cancer and she was given an estimate of the number of months she had left to live, I’m not sure if I can handle it. But one thing is for sure: if or when Death with Dignity becomes legal all over the country, I’ll be happy she’ll have a choice if or when she’s going to go through with it. I support euthanasia, Death with Dignity being one of its subtypes. It continues to bother me that a lot of people welcome (sometimes very enthusiastically) the idea of convicted felons being lethally injected yet they oppose the idea that suffering people should have a say on deciding when their lives are no longer worth living. For me, it’s never okay to force someone to die just because the law says so. I don’t care if it’s the law of the land. I don’t care if it’s the “law” of religion. It feels immoral to me. But to have an unlocked door available because a person no longer wants to suffer from an unmanageable pain (despite the best drugs) and untreatable disease? That’s a choice everyone should have.

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