“How to Die in Oregon,” an film about the
impact of Oregon’s 1994 Death With Dignity Act, has won the prestigious Grand
Jury Prize in the US Documentary Competition at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
It opens with cancer patient Roger Sagner drinking a lethal
drug surrounded by friends and family and it includes an interview with Randy
Stroup, an uninsured cancer patient who was offered death with dignity by the
Oregon Health Department as a low-cost end-of-life option.
The documentary focuses on 54-year-old wife
and mother Cody Curtis, who is
suffering from liver cancer. After an unsuccessful 9-hour operation, she
decides that she does not want to linger on as a burden on her family. Although
she sets the date of her death for Memorial Day (in May), she feels reasonably
well and defers it until December 7.
film becomes a story of this extraordinary period when she’s contemplating what
life means to her, how she’s going to spend those last 10 months,” says
director Peter Richardson. “She’s constantly making this assessment of how do I
want to live this day and do I want to be here tomorrow. Those are very, very
This is the latest pro-euthanasia film to
emerge. The trailer leaves me with a few questions. Is it my imagination or do all
these films feature melancholy violins and attractive, well-groomed women with
wan smiles? And was she thinking when she woke up in the morning about how
disappointed the director will be because I want to live just one more day? And
wouldn’t the pressure of choosing to live tomorrow, day after day, drive you to an early grave all by itself? And
isn’t there something pornographic about watching someone die on camera? Not very profound questions but interesting, nonetheless.