Death with Dignity: Should There Be a Choice

Sunset at Council Crest

image by _ambrown from flickr

A number of weeks ago (May 26, 2011), I was tuned in to Q with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC radio.  Jian was interviewing a filmmaker named Peter Richardson whose film “How to Die inOregon” won the Sundance Film Documentary Grad Jury Award in 2011.  Here’s a link to the interview.

This young filmmaker has decided to take a more human look at Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law.  This law, passed in Oregon in 1994, allows terminally ill individuals with less than 6 months to live, the right to choose doctor assisted suicide.  After fulfilling a series of requirements, the terminally ill individual can request a legal overdose of self-administered barbiturates.

Although this law has been in effect since 1994, only 500 terminally ill Oregonians have chosen to exercise their right to take their own lives.  “How to Die in Oregon” examines the issue of death and dying from a very raw and real human perspective rather than along ethical or political lines. The film takes a more human look at the Death with Dignity law and asks the question why our society avoids addressing death and why we need to.

The film shares with us a number of real experiences and attempts to help us understand why a critical terminal individual would make this choice.

The main story  features a 54 year old wife and mother named Cody Curtis.  Cody, diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer, unsuccessfully pursues the curative route.  Her choice then becomes not a question of if she is going to die but how this will take place.  Cody explains that the reason she wants to make this choice is because in so many ways, she will not have control with what happens to her as she gets closer to her own death.  Deciding when to end her own life will give her both choice and control.  A review in the Boston Globe comments that Cody is “articulate, philosophical, graceful and scared as hell.  Anyone who watches How to Die in Oregon is a better person for knowing her, even indirectly.”

There is no question that this film is difficult to watch.  It takes a personal and very human look at the question of death and dying.  What this film has done has encouraged dialogue within families and society on a topic that is often taboo in our society.

So, you are probably wondering why it has taken me so long to chat about this film.  HBO Canada premiered the film after the CBC interview in May.  The film will be featured on HBO on Tuesday, June 14 at 6:00 a.m. and again at 1:35 p.m.  You can check out more information about this film at or on

I plan on watching on Tuesday.  I would love to hear your thoughts on the Death With Dignity Law and your impression of the film.  Hoping to hear your thoughts later in the week.  Have a good one.



3 thoughts on “Death with Dignity: Should There Be a Choice

  1. Hi Laurie,
    I was unable to watch it as we don’t get HBO but would very much like to hear your reaction and comments on the film. It sounds fascinating and I’m sure we will hear more about the topic in the years ahead.

  2. Hi there,

    Like Angela, I wasn’t able to watch the documentary. So I looked around for some reviews.
    Here’s one from the Toronto Star (scroll down to the “H’s”).
    Here’s one from the Hollywood Reporter
    And here’s an opposing viewpoint from the Washington Post–or-how-to-sidestep-hard-questions/2011/05/27/AGJJPiCH_blog.html


  3. Hi Elizabeth,
    I clicked on the links and took a look at the reviews that you provided. After watching the documentary last week, I would say that all 3 reviews have merit. The Toronto Star review states that the “bravery, good humour and family devotion are an inspiration to watch no matter what your stand.” The Hollywood Reporter comments on the “well grounded insight” of the film. The Washington Post reviewers use the term “intellectually flabby” as part of their criticism of the film (love that term).
    Much of the criticism of the Post reviewers centers around the defintion of certain terms. For example, how does one define dignity. Although I do understand the point the reviewers are trying to make, I think you can end up going in circles on these kinds of questions.
    Personally, I think everyone could benefit from watching the documentary. It is probably one of the most emotional films I have ever viewed. Would love to hear what you think after seeing the film!

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