Some call it assisted suicide. Others call it euthanasia. But to the media, it’s the “right to die.”
VICE news airing on HBO was recently nominated for multiple 2016 Emmy Awards, including “Outstanding Informational Series or Special.” In order encourage Emmy voters to award them, VICE and HBO released three new episodes, one of which centered on the Right to Die.
In other words, the ability to kill oneself legally with the aid of a medical professional. To demonstrate just serious VICE is about getting that Emmy, the show filmed a woman as she went on her "nice journey" (aka died).
The video description read:
When California enacted the End of Life Option Act last October amid fierce debate, the number of terminally ill Americans with the right to a doctor-assisted death effectively quadrupled. But in parts of Europe, Euthanasia is administered far beyond than [sic] the terminally ill, including those with autism, depression, and personality disorders. VICE explores the moral, political and personal questions about when and how we end our lives.
The credits revealed the big media names behind the video, including liberal comedian Bill Maher as executive producer and CNN host Fareed Zakaria as consulting producer. Documentary below.
To begin the episode, Vice correspondent Vikram Gandhi pointed to the assisted-suicide movement’s “new face”: Brittany Maynard.
In 2014, the twenty-nine-year-old tragically ended her life, after diagnosed with glioblastoma, a form of terminal brain cancer. Having moved from California to Oregon, she took advantage of the state’s Death with Dignity Act, in which a physician can legally supply fatal medication.
Maynard’s story, Gandhi said, not only served as a “reminder that in most states, Americans don’t have that right,” but also pushed more states to consider assisted-suicide.
Throughout the show, Gandhi spoke with multiple people wanting death, including Christina Symonds. Diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which causes paralysis and respiratory failure, Symonds followed Maynard’s example by moving from California to Oregon.
“I don’t want to go through that horror,” Symonds said of her disease. “And I certainly don’t want to put my kids through that.”
Symonds will leave behind four kids (aged 5, 8, 10 and 11) as well as her husband Teddy, a former police officer.
“And if you have that ability, that’s power,” Teddy said of his wife’s decision to die. “And it’s – it – it’s a calmness and security like – like nothing else.”
Gandhi agreed, narrating, “that’s a sense of security that most dying Americans aren’t granted by their respective states.” (Only 5 states allow assisted suicide, according to Gandhi.)
That’s why Derek Humphrey, also located in Oregon, is a big deal. Gandhi spoke with Humphry, who has helped people “take matters into their own hands,” ever since his wife asked him to “help me to die.”
Humphrey founded the Hemlock society, a “right-to-die” organization, and wrote two bestselling books, including Final Exit, which he called a “book full of love.”
“But it’s not just a book of love,” Gandhi differentiated, “it gives in-depth instructions on different ways you can kill yourself.” Humphrey demonstrated one of those ways, suffocation by breathing helium in a plastic bag, for Gandhi.
For his next example, Gandhi visited Howard Glick in Arizona, where assisted suicide is illegal. Diagnosed with a brain disorder called Frontotemporal Degeneration, Glick also sought death.
Like Symonds, he didn’t want to burden his children.
“What do I want to do?” Glick said. “Waste away in a wheelchair, not even recognizing my children? Never mind the cost involved. I don’t want my children to suffer.”
He was also familiar with Humphrey’s Final Exit – although he didn’t say whether he would actually use one of Humphrey’s methods to kill himself.
One woman in Glick’s support group, consisting of citizens with the same diagnosis, argued, “people will say with a pet who is no longer living a full life, it’s cruel to let that animal suffer. Aren’t I more important than an animal?”
Exactly. No one, not once, suggested there was meaning to suffering or pain.
This movement’s “grassroots energy transformed into action” in March 2015, Gandhi said, with California’s S.B. 128 or the End of Life Option Act which would allow assisted suicide.
Gandhi noted that while nearly 70% of Californians supported it, the “powerful Catholic Church helped to persuade lawmakers to stall it” (until October, that is, when it passed with the help of advocates like Christy O’Donnell with stage 4 lung cancer).
To Gandhi’s credit, he interviewed Ned Dolejsi of the California Catholic Conference.
“From our faith perspective, there’s the reality that God is God and we’re not,” Dolejsi argued, before warning that, with a competitive healthcare system, “the mentally ill, the disabled, those who are poor will be the people who are inappropriately steered to move in this direction.”
Gandhi also admitted that assisted suicide could lead to a “slippery slope,” as exemplified by Belgium and the Netherlands “where euthanasia is authorized for much more than terminal illnesses,” such as depression, autism, anorexia, blindness, and personality disorders.
In the Netherlands, Antoinette Westerink fell under the personality disorders category.
“Here was a table,” she pointed to an empty spot in her house. “But tomorrow I lay here in my coffin.”
Westerink chose death, she said, because “my suffering has become unbearable” with anxiety, delirium, dissociations, depersonalization and PTSD. “I can’t do it anymore,” she added.
Her friends agreed. “I don’t even think today is a hard day, I think today is a day [to] celebrate,” her friend Marja Schirris said. “Finally we can let you go.”
But Westerink’s children disagreed.
Her daughter Sheila revealed that her mother “wanted to die her entire life” and wished that her mother’s psychiatrist had consulted her. Her son also said the doctor should have spoken with the family instead of giving his mother a “death sentence” after three conversations.
Dr. Paulan Starcke, Westerink’s psychiatrist, diagnosed her with a life-long personality disorder and blamed it as the “basis of her complaints.” At the same time, she was “convinced” Westerink “thought this choice over carefully,” the choice for a “harmonious painless supported death,” that is.
She died on camera in front of Gandhi.
“We’re going to give you an injection,” Dr. Starcke told Westerink. “That means you’re going to die and that is what you want.”
Westerink slowly closed her eyes as friends a family wished her a “nice journey.”
This isn’t the first time the media have advertised assisted suicide. When the news broke that Maynard died, media flocked to “applaud” her “ethical” and “moral” choice. Last year, NBC News deemed legal suicide “a death worth fight for” and a PBS documentary glamorized the “right-tod-die.”
This year, magazines Esquire, Cosmopolitan and Redbook promoted the story of a son’s “gift of death” to his mother and Hollywood produced Me Before You, a “romantic” assisted suicide film.