‘How to Die in Oregon’: screening at VIFF 2011

A thought-provoking documentary on assisted suicide screens at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Credit: VIFF

‘How to Die in Oregon’ tackles the gut-wrenching emotions involved with physician-assisted suicide


I probably didn’t blink once during How to Die in Oregon. It is gripping, heartbreaking, and true, true, true.


How to Die in Oregon


Vancouver International Film Festival 2011


Empire Theatre Granville 7, 855 Granville Street, Vancouver


October 10, 2011 at 2:50 p.m.

People die in this movie—this can’t possibly be a spoiler, given the title. And if they aren’t dead, they’re dying.


Director Peter D. Richardson takes us to uncomfortably intimate places with his documentary on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act: to the hospital rooms where doctors break the news that there is no hope left, to the final days of a family’s grief and goodbyes, to the bedsides of terminal cancer patients as they swallow legally prescribed medications to end their lives. You. Will. Cry.


Since 1994, Oregon state law has granted terminally ill residents the right to doctor-assisted suicide. As of the making of this film, 500 people have used this law to end the physical pain brought on by their deteriorating bodies.


It’s hard to consider someone with a terminal disease as being lucky, but those in Oregon are the luckiest of an unlucky bunch. At least with this law in place, patients are allowed to end their suffering when, where, and if they choose—a kindness not always afforded to the sick.


Physician-assisted death

Physician-assisted death is practiced in Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Oregon; in the rest of the world, it’s illegal. How to Die in Oregon makes a strong case for the practice as it follows volunteers, doctors and patients through the process of planned death.


The film, which will screen at the Vancouver International Film Festival, is presented by the BC Civil Liberties Association. The intent, obviously, is to spark conversation on adopting the law here at home. It’s heartbreaking to think about our loved ones planning their own last days, but there is a strong argument that it may also be necessary.


It’s a controversial process that has certainly raised questions: there are religious objections to taking your own life, and the “slippery slope” argument paints a grim picture for depressives and the mentally ill who have access to legalized suicide. But How to Die in Oregon insists that planning your own death is hardly the easy way out—it’s an option for people with no other options.


For people like Cody, a mother of two with quick wit and aggressively spreading internal infections, the vial of pills in her nightstand offers her a control cancer patients are rarely afforded.


“If it was up to me,” she says in one of her interviews, with a sad smile and thousand-yard stare, “I wouldn’t have to die at all.” But it’s not up to her. It’s up to the untreatable cancer in her liver.


This thought-provoking doc will be screening Monday, October 10 at 2:50pm at the Empire Granville 7th Theatre.