Death on Request
|Keywords||Aging, Caregivers, Communication, Death and Dying, Disability, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Empathy, Euthanasia, Family Relationships, Grief, Illness Narrative/Pathography, Law and Medicine, Love, Medical Ethics, Mourning, Pain, Patient Experience, Physician Experience, Society, Suffering, Suicide|
In this documentary film about euthanasia in the Netherlands, a man--Kees van Wendel de Joode--with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease) requests death in his home, to be performed by his doctor, Wilfred Sidney van Oijen. The film mostly consists of what appear to be unscripted discussions between Kees, his wife Antoinette, and the doctor; however, there are also interviews with the doctor and views of the doctor seeing other patients. The film shows the doctor performing euthanasia: we watch him inject a barbiturate and then a muscle relaxant and we see him supporting Antoinette during the bedside deathwatch.
Kees has had a rapid deterioration of his ability to function: he is unable to move his legs and right arm, he can no longer speak coherently, and he is having difficulty swallowing. His wife cares for him in their Amsterdam apartment. The film documents the legal requirements for euthanasia in the Netherlands: Kees's repeated requests for euthanasia, confirmation that he has an incurable disease, the second opinion doctor's visit, and reporting the death to the municipal coroner and public prosecutor.
The film's strength lies in the sensitive treatment of the impact of this request on the patient, his wife, and especially on his doctor. Dr. van Oijen is an introspective man who cares for his patients--he makes house calls, explains medical terms to his patients, touches his patients, and asks what they are concerned about. He allows his patients (Antoinette is, in many ways, his patient too) to weep and be emotional.
The religious and moral dimensions of euthanasia are explored mostly with the doctor, who does not view himself as a wanton killer, but rather a doctor whose duty includes the alleviation of suffering. The film concludes with a voice-over stating the doctor will not sleep this night, but still has a clinic full of patients awaiting him in the morning.
The film is biased in favor of euthanasia; the only negative aspect to be explored at any length is the potentially morally troubling effect on the surviving spouse and the doctor. It is also unclear whether all avenues to alleviate Kees's pain and suffering were used, as the pharmacist notes that the patient had little "pharmaceutical history"--which raises the question as to whether he was offered analgesics or anti-depressants.
Nevertheless, the film is very well made and edited. There is a good juxtaposition of the wintry weather and the moral landscape. The people in the film are extremely sympathetic--Kees uses his computer to write a lovely letter to his wife on the day before he dies, Antoinette clearly loves her husband deeply, and the doctor, in how he talks and listens to his patients, is a role-model for the empathic care-giver.
|Studio||First Run/Icarus Films?anlight Productions|
|Running Time||57 minutes|
|Video Source||Fanlight Productions. 4196 Washington Street Suite 2, Boston, MA 02131. Tel. 800-937-4113.|
|Miscellaneous||In Dutch, with English subtitles. Winner of the Best Film on Medical Issues and Ethics, AMA Health and Medical Film Festival.|
|Annotated by||Shafer, Audrey|
|Date of Entry||02/02/99|