Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to Die in Oregon - a Masterpiece about our quality of Life and Death and the Human condition

How to Die in Oregon
HBO Documentary
Director: Peter Richardson

In the opening scene of this documentary, before we even see the title of the movie -we are made part of a home movie. Your first impression is that we are witnessing a birthday party. Then a tear, an awkward silence and a sad farewell and expression of love to his family, Roger Sagner drinks a lethal potion to end his life, made available to him by Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. Before the title even rolls, I am weeping.

The movie follows a number of people, going through terminal and painful diseases - but the focus is on Cody Curtis, a 54 year old married mother of 2, struggling through the final years of liver cancer.

Cody is a gorgeous, silver-haired woman with a bright smile and an amazing family. We meet her as she has set her "date" to die, and we see her daily struggles with this decision. Some days happy to have a time to know when the pain will be over, and rest will be infinite - but some good days where she gardens without pain, makes meals for her family and enjoys priceless time with her children. Those moments she breaks down and wants to cancel her "date" and for a second, thinks because she is feeling better, maybe a miracle has happened, maybe the cancer is gone....

I found Cody not only beautiful and courageous, but also graceful and thoughtful, as she wanted to plan each goodbye special for each loved one, and wanted to make her last hours perfect. She spent time cooking with her son "T", going through her jewelry with her daughter, even going through clothes with close girlfriends.

The relationship that was the most touching to me however was that of Cody and her doctor, Katherine Morris. Dr. Morris was such a sweet, kind and understanding doctor who worked with Cody up until her chosen death and cared for her every need. She explained the difficulties and pains she would have on her way through the process. She was informative but also supportive and nurturing, during what was arguably one of the toughest fights for life I have ever witnessed.

Following her painful decline had an intimate and sweet side to it. I can't imagine the pain this family had to go through, and adding in the cameras and invasive project - I felt at times I was intruding on something very private. Her final chosen death date was handled beautifully I thought. Lovingly, quiet and extremely respectful. If you have any heart whatsoever, it made you realize the humane nature of this choice and why people would choose to take this road to salvage their dignity and whatever quality of life they have left.

The flip side to this issue is also explored. We meet a woman from Washington, who's husband struggled with brain cancer and the Physician assisted Suicide law was not passed here the year she needed it. The movie follows her husbands horribly painful descent and openly displays his severe suffering. Unable to move to Oregon, because you must be a resident for a specific amount of time order to qualify under the law - an amount of time that her husband did not have. The heartache that you feel for this woman and her poor suffering husband, is just horrible.

In the end, besides finding myself weeping and wanting to contact all of my family and friends affect with or by Cancer - the movie also made me want to be part of the fight for this law. To help convince people the importance of this choice and the affect it has on peoples affected and their families. You will never again look at terminal illness the same.

I applaud the families who had the courage and strength to put their life and death on film to help educate the world. I applaud the writers/producers and staff who had such great respect and care when preparing this subject for the worth. They found the perfect balance to both touch the heart, educate the mind and make us want to work for change.

***** = 5 stars - excellent movie that everyone should see

**I dedicate this review to two special friends, 2 sisters - who's dear mother is going through stage 4/5 cancer in 4 parts of her body. You are amazingly strong warriors and your mother is an amazing soul to withstand all she has up to this point. We love you guys so very much.**

1 comment:

  1. Hi -
    I was the editor on How To Die In Oregon.
    Thanks for the intelligent and passionate review.
    I have forwarded it to Dr. Kate and Nancy (the woman in the film campaigning for the law in WA).
    I think they'll find it very interesting.
    Keep up the good work.
    Greg Snider