How To Die In Oregon

Posted January 24, 2011 in
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Cody Curtis (left), the subject of "How To Die In Oregon" Photo by Peter D. Richardson

How To Die In Oregon
Sundance Film Festival
Director: Peter D. Richardson

In 1994 Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide. If a person is diagnosed with a terminal disease and has less than six months to live, they can chose to kill themselves by taking a lethal dose of barbiturates. Since passing more than 500 people have chosen to end their lives on their own time. Through the film Peter D. Richardson enters the lives of the terminally ill who have chosen to end their suffering utilizing the Oregon law. Without a doubt, the most touching story comes from Cody Curtis—a fifty something year old woman with two children who has been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and told she has six months to live. Curtis is appalled by the idea that she will become a burden to her friends and family, and even picks a date when she’ll take the medication to kill herself. As the date draws nearer we see footage of Curtis divvying up her possessions to her friends and family and spending her final weeks with those that are most important to her. But then the unexpected happens, instead of getting worse, for a while Curtis’s condition improves, forcing her to question whether it’s better to fade away naturally or to take the lethal dose of medication to end her suffering. The interviews in Richardson’s film are truly captivating and profound. Through interviews with Curtis, others who have chosen to end their lives using the Oregon law and volunteers behind the Compassion & Choices organization, Richardson builds a documentary the begs the questions: What does it mean to die with dignity? Is it ethical to allow people with the tools to kill themselves?  If you were in their situation, what would you choose? The film explores the various ways that individuals deal with their own demise. It pulls on the heartstrings, but also does a good job of giving a balanced look at a controversial and emotionally charged issue. As "How To Die In Oregon" came to an end, the audience was silent. All that could be heard as the credits rolled was occasional sniffling. Hours after, the stories of those interviewed are still lingering in the back of my mind.

Cody Curtis (left), the subject of "How To Die In Oregon" Photo by Peter D. Richardson Cody Curtis talking to physicians in "How To Die In Oregon". Photo by Peter D. Richardson A scene from "How To Die In Oregon". Photo by Peter D. Richardson "How To Die In Oregon" director Peter D. Richardson. Photo by Hunter Richards