Picture – David Bebber David Bebber for The Times

The Right to Die explored through the form of documentary

 “The Right to Die” is a phrase used as a part of a global movement attempting to change the law regarding assisted euthanasia. In the UK a patient is unable to ask for medical assistance when wanting to end their life. According to Section 21 of The Suicide Act (1961), any person participating in the assisted suicide can face criminal charges of manslaughter or murder. Any person in the UK who is found guilty of the former or latter charge can face up to 14 years – life imprisonment. There are two types of assisted suicide; passive and active. Passive assisted suicide would be understood as the choice to turn a patient’s life support off, as they could no longer survive without depending upon it. This decision would be made with a medical doctor attending and guiding the decision. Active assisted suicide would involve the assisting person actively taking measures to harm and indeed kill the patient. Even if the assisted suicide was condoned and encouraged by the patient the participant in the suicide can still be charged with manslaughter or murder charges. Subsequently, The Right to Die and Dying with Dignity have become politically loaded phrases and are often used in campaigns and protests encouraging for euthanasia to be legalised. So one could find themselves questioning what are our “rights” as human beings? And, when should a patient be allowed the right to die? Should this decision have to be medical related or simply a choice (say due to mental health issues)?

The Netherlands and Belgium legalised Euthanasia in 2002. Switzerland allows assisted suicide through medical care and a doctor’s assistance, however, the act of euthanasia in and of itself is still understood as being illegal. From December, 19th 2016, the states of Oregon, California, Colorado, Vermont, and Washington have all legalised the act of Assisted Suicide. So why has Britain still not legalised assisted suicide?

In the U.S.A states that have legalised assisted suicide, a patient must adhere to the specific requirements to be able to carry out the act legally.

  • Be capable of taking the medication independently.
  • Be of a sound and competent mind.
  • Be over the age of 18 years old.
  • Be suffering and diagnosed with a terminal illness that can be determined by a medical Doctor to kill the patient within 6 months time.

After digesting this information, I find myself questioning my own moral compass on this topic. I researched cases where the law on should be legal and illegal with regards to condoning euthanasia appeared to be blurred. Cases such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders or as one case recorded a woman’s fear of technology had all been deemed acceptable and justifiable for euthanasia to take place. A large part of my research involved watching documentaries around the topic. Below I will list each film with a brief description.

  1. Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die (2011)

Source: Keo Films (Youtube)


Sir Terry Pratchett was a renowned British author who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease which ultimately led him on a journey to report for the BBC about assisted suicide. Throughout his journey, he meets different prospective patients, all of whom are suffering from a terminal illness and are planning to end their life at the renowned Dignitas clinic in Zurich. Pratchett and his cameraman … form attachments to the patients they are documenting. Rather than acting as observational bystanders, Pratchett and his cameraman often question the patients and their families in a bid to challenge their firm belief in assisted euthanasia. Pratchett’s personal diagnosis is often brought up and he attempts to understand the other patient’s choices to end their life before their disease begins to physically affect them. Pratchett’s often long moments of recognition that he too faces the same plight is what makes this documentary all the more devastating. This documentary, for me, conveyed the brave men who wished to die prematurely before their disease took over. As the UK does not provide this service some patients have no option but to die in a bed where so many others have before in an industrial park with foreign speaking doctors. This reality does not appear to be a “dignified death” as we watch one patient die before us on the screen. However, I can’t help but

2. How to die in Oregon (2011), Peter Richardson  (HBO)

Source: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxI47yIql2wR2xGBXx-aDJw

In 1997 Oregon state in America issued a new law to be passed that would enable Oregon citizens to participate in what has been phrased as “Physician Assisted Suicide”. This act subsequently enabled for terminally ill patients to be able to, without being prosecuted, take their own life by means of consuming a lethal amount of prescribed drugs assisted by a medical doctor. Oregon was the first state to pass a law that condoned “death with dignity” without it being deemed a suicide.

How to die in Oregon documents the ways in which this act has been implemented into the American health system. We witness assisted suicide from both the physician and patients perspectives. This documentary inserts the viewer into the world of mother and wife, Cody Curtis. Her bravery throughout and eagerness and willingness to fight truly unveils the hardship she must have been facing when she chooses to die prematurely. Curtus’s friendship with her physician is genuine and unlike the previous documentary discussed, this expository film truly depicts what is described as “death with dignity“. It is clear from the outset that Curtis is struggling with intolerable pain and her life became, as she described, not worth living. Her choice is clearly selfless and thought through. This documentary is hard to watch, however, the courageous Curtis discusses her options and indeed she chooses physician-assisted suicide at her home surrounded by her family.


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