How To Die In Oregon (2011)




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As medical technology has extended the human life span far beyond what many believed possible only decades ago, a growing number of people face the dilemma of having their lives artificially prolonged beyond a point they regard as necessary or desirable. In 1994, the state of Oregon addressed this issue by enacting the "Death With Dignity Act," which allows terminally ill patients the right to opt for physician-assisted suicide. Filmmaker Peter D. Richardson looks into the philosophical and practical implications of this law in the documentary How To Die In Oregon. Richardson features interviews with journalists, lawyers and physicians as they talk about the efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide, as well as patients and their families as they struggle with the decision of just when is the time to say they've lived long enough, with a special focus placed on Cody Curtis, a woman in her mid-50s fighting an uphill battle with liver cancer. How To Die In Oregon received its world premiere at the 2011 South by Southwest Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
Documentary , Special Interest
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Critic Reviews for How To Die In Oregon

All Critics (8) | Top Critics (1)

An affecting profile of the patient aid-in-dying debate.

Full Review… | February 7, 2011
Hollywood Reporter
Top Critic

A sensitive and deeply moving portrait that you won't find easy to shake.

Full Review… | February 12, 2012
Movie Metropolis

A poignant plea for acceptance of patient aid-in-dying.

Full Review… | June 10, 2011

All I know is that I cried pretty much all the way through How to Die in Oregon, and that Cody and Robert's final words of "it's so easy" offers me great comfort when I think about that last journey into the abyss.

Full Review… | June 7, 2011


Full Review… | May 23, 2011
Ebert Presents At The Movies

Make no mistake, this is a difficult film to watch - but it is also a surprisingly uplifting one.

Full Review… | February 12, 2011
Eye for Film

Audience Reviews for How To Die In Oregon

How to Die in Oregon is a painful movie to watch. It opens with a celebration of sorts: A sick man is about to die with dignity. He, like many in the state of Oregon, is willfully choosing to take his life quietly and painlessly, rather than the long and excruciating death his terminal disease promises. We see him say his goodbyes-including a heartfelt thank you to the citizens of Oregon who helped pass the law that gave him this option-and we're there as he takes his lethal cocktail and drifts off into a sleep that he'll never wake up from. This is how the movie proceeds. We meet many other terminally ill men and women, and hear their thoughts on the possibility afforded to them by the state. Some are in favor, others oppose it vehemently. And one of the many great things about the film is the intelligent way it presents both points of view. There isn't a right or wrong answer in this debate, and one can certainly see why both perspectives would be considered "courageous" (a term that gets thrown about a lot throughout the film). There's one thread that runs throughout the film and gets at least half of the film's running time. It follows a 54-year-old woman, Cody Collins, who is stricken with terminal liver cancer. When she received the shocking news, there was still a chance. She had surgery to remove the tumor, but it came back, and for a long while, Cody needed help eating, walking, bathing, going to the bathroom, etc. Not wanting to go through such a horrible experience again, she contacted the group Compassion and Choices about the Death with Dignity option, just in case she should get that bad again. Though she was given just six more months to live when the film starts, she outlives that prognosis, but just as things are beginning to look up, her pain returns, and she begins contemplating her alternative once again. Cody is startlingly honest about her condition and how she feels about everything, both physically and emotionally. She doesn't want to be a burden on her family, and though she'd much rather just drift off quietly and naturally than opt for Death with Dignity, she has no desire whatsoever to suffer any more than she already has. It's so sad to watch, almost impossibly so, when in the middle of an interview, she winces in unspeakable pain or chokes up at the thought of saying goodbye to her husband and two kids. She's such a compelling individual and provides what could have been a very political film with an extremely emotional hook. There is another plot that is political. It follows a Washington widow who promises her dying husband that she'll fight to see Death with Dignity passed in her state. Her fight is also quite moving, and it's in these scenes that we understand a little more about the resistance against the law. Much of it comes on the grounds of religion, but there are plenty of others-including doctors-who worry about the slippery slope passage of such a law could create. Director Peter Richardson deserves a great deal of credit for making a film that doesn't skirt around its position, but also doesn't make its opponents seem like fools. But ultimately, the strength of the film is your emotional connection with the individuals shown-especially Collins. Anyone who has lost someone to a disease like cancer will probably be overcome by some of what How to Die in Oregon has to offer. However, this shouldn't be a deterrent. The film won a Jury prize at Sundance last year, and was subsequently picked up by HBO Films. If you have the opportunity to see it, do so. It was #4 on my list of the best films of 2011, and though it's very hard to sit through, it deserves and audience.

John Gilpatrick
John Gilpatrick

From the opening scene to the last this movie clearly defines the need for assisted suicide in this country. A compelling case indeed to allow those afflicted with terminal illness the right to die with dignity. Thank you, Oregon. May Nevada follow your lead!

Amy Higgins
Amy Higgins

While "How to Die in Oregon" is a quietly powerful documentary about an important subject, the idea of dying with dignity, it is also so intense that it is probably not for everyone. That's due to the intimate nature of the documentary itself that eschews the normal safe route of talking heads and experts and instead spends time with those most affected by the new laws which are now in effect in three states. Of special attention is Cody Curtis, 53, a once active mother of two in Oregon, who was diagnosed with cancer after a grapefruit sized tumor was found in her liver and given only months to live. As proof against naysayers and critics, "How to Die in Oregon" shows what dying with dignity is not. It is not perfect as a couple of participants talk about being a burden on their families which is actually what they are there for. And it should surprise no one that an insurance company found a way to exploit the law. Nor is it assisted suicide. Doctors only have to write prescriptions(from $100 to $1,000). As counseled by volunteers from Compassion and Choices, the fatally ill get to choose when they will exit life, not end life(in the words of one participant), and usually in the company of friends and family at home if they so wish. Two questions are asked at the moment of truth: Do you want to change your mind? & What does the medication do? All of which simply reminds us all that death is a natural part of life.

Walter M.
Walter M.

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