Posted on Tuesday, February 1st, 2011 by Germain Lussier
On the final Sunday of Sundance, most of the theaters in town show the films that won awards the night previous. I’d already seen the US Dramatic and US Audience award winners, regularly the two most prestigious handed out, so as my final film of Sundance 2011, I watched the US Documentary winner called How To Die In Oregon. Directed by Peter D. Richardson, the film explores the Oregon law that allows for physician assistant suicide. From its unforgettable opening to its equally unforgettable climax, How To Die In Oregon is a somewhat balanced, but incredibly personal and emotional documentary that you won’t soon forget.
Since 1994 when Oregon passed the Death with Dignity law that allowed patients who have 6 months or less to live to willingly end their lives by lethal overdose, over 500 people have taken advantage. How To Die In Oregon portrays both the pros and cons of this law by letting us meet several people who have made this decision, doctors who have written the prescription and a wife who attempts to grant her husband’s last wish to get the law passed in another state. The film is vehemently for the assisted suicide, but does pepper in the con side to the argument. My only complaint is that there isn’t enough of the opposition. By the end, it does feel a little lopsided.
Which is fine because the bulk of the film is spent with Cody Curtis, a mother of two with terminal liver cancer, who is one of the most courageous, brave and strong women even filmed. She – like other people who’ve made this decision – knows that she’s going to die and just wants to do it on her own terms. Create her own closures, say her peace. At the end of their lives, when bodies don’t let people function normally, this is the one final decision they can make. This way they can say their goodbyes and forgo all the pain.
We spend time with Curtis and her family as they come to the decision, struggle with the decision, discuss the repercussions and much, much more. The Curtis’s give incredible access to Richardson and his crew and by the end of the film, I literally almost wanted to walk out. Not because I was offended, but because I didn’t think I could watch what was about to happen. I cared too much about these people. Thankfully, the film handles the inevitable with a real sense of class and respect both for the family and the audience.
How To Die In Oregon is difficult to watch. It’s also deeply rewarding and well-deserving of the accolades it received.
/Film Rating: 9 out of 10