The Arts

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Death with Dignity laws and assisted death are often addressed in books, film, and television. Often these portrayals are fraught with inaccuracies in an effort to make this controversial subject even more of a hot-button issue. Sometimes, however, bodies of work emerge which are accurate and thought provoking.

Below you'll find posts about films or TV programs which take the time to truly look at what it means to die with dignity.

Showtime's Time of Death

Time of Death is a new series on Showtime depicting stories of families with a terminally ill member. Presented in documentary fashion, producers of the series aim to deliver intimate portrayals of the final moments of life.

This series is well worth a moment of your time, even during this busy holiday season; it provides a realistic glimpse into the dying process—one not presented in most movies or television shows. It doesn't contain glamorized stories of heroic and successful medical treatments. Each week, we meet new characters; each week they die. In between, they undergo medical treatments, struggle with family issues, and grapple with mortality.

In the first episode, available free on YouTube or on the Showtime website, viewers meet Michael, a man diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer of the connective tissue. Michael accepts his impending death with grace, while his taciturn father struggles to cope with the fast-moving reality of his son's mortality. The hospice nurse helps his family understand the dying process as he takes his final breath.

Read more: Showtime's Time of Death

Knocking on Heavens Door

Katy Butler's Knocking on Heaven's Door

Katy Butler's Knocking on Heaven's Door, a memoir of her parents' deaths which also provides a journalistic appraisal of the economic, technological and cultural evolution of how we die, has been uniformly well received with a bizarre caveat. Reviewers, interviewers and Butler herself all expressed surprise a book on the taboo subject of death has proven so popular among readers.

One interviewer relates that as she prepared for her conversation with Butler, a café server asked about the book and told her a story about her father's death from cancer. "This prompted other people at the counter to talk about their aging parents and how they want to handle end-of-life care." Apparently, one person who speaks out can spark a broad conversation about this universal human concern. Knocking on Heaven's Door suggests a lack of openness about dying and avoidance of the subject enable the many problems people experience with end-of-life care.

Read more: Knocking on Heavens Door

Time of Death

Time of Death care of Showtime

The unflinching look at death in Showtime's new series Time of Death reminds me of the frank and life-affirming documentary How to Die in Oregon about the Oregon and Washington Death with Dignity Acts. Most of the time, movies and TV series which include any aspect of our common inevitability, death, turn only a glancing gaze at the taboo subject.

Through action or suspense shows, death is usually quick and brutal. Detective dramas analyze death after it's happened; medical programs are overly optimistic about the realities of CPR. Comedies almost always avoid the topic altogether (though How I Met Your Mother bucked the establishment in one of its highest rated episodes). For the most part, producers of visual media shy away from death. They're likely concerned viewers won't tune in to watch the complicated emotions around a family losing a loved one to a terminal illness or the difficult physical realities of dying.

Read more: Time of Death

A Summer of Reading

I finished my dissertation in June, much relieved to have my To-Do list greatly shortened and my workload exponentially reduced. I launched on a plan to engage in a summer of enjoyment and relaxation rather than toil. Looking back, I can see I was still in "accomplishment mode," setting goals for relaxation; I told myself I'd read one book a week during the glorious days of summer sun.

Many of the books I had on my list relate to my career path as a social worker and executive at Death with Dignity, as many good social justice, political, and even death-themed books have been published in the last couple of years. I'd tell my colleagues, "I'll put it on my reading list for when I'm done with my dissertation." My reading list filled with work-related books! About halfway through the summer, I abandoned my work reading list for pure, nonsensical written trifles.

I thought I'd share with you some of the best pieces I read, both death-themed and not. Some of them might make it to your snuggle down for fall reading list.

Read more: A Summer of Reading

This Week in the Movement

Fleur de Lys, the flag of Quebec, photo by Doug on flickr

Throughout the week, we keep people up-to-date with information about the Death with Dignity movement and other topics related to end-of-life care through Facebook and Twitter. Below are highlights from this week.

Efforts regarding Death with Dignity:

Read more: This Week in the Movement


Defend dignity. Take action.

You are the key to ensuring well-crafted Death with Dignity laws for all Americans. With your financial and volunteer help, the Death with Dignity National Center, a 501(c)(3), non-partisan, non-profit organization, has been the leading advocate in the death with dignity movement. Member contributions helped us pass a new Death with Dignity law in Washington, defend the Oregon law, and provide education and outreach programs for the vitality of the death with dignity movement.

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