Speaking of Dying: A Tale of Two Films
If someone told me that one day I would be travelling around the world to speak on euthanasia and assisted suicide I would have been hard pressed to believe them. I mean, who in their right mind would want to talk about death as a calling?
For most of my career, I was either in front of the camera entertaining —or behind it, producing films on things like dinosaurs, spies, entrepreneurs or modern history. However, as I began inching towards the age of 50 (I’m a young 54 as I write this) the subject matter for my films took a seismic shift towards social justice issues - and in particular, laws that imply that some lives are not worth living.
As I write this, I’m flying home from my 20th talk of 2019 - this time in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I call it my “Prophets of Hope” tour because I honestly believe that is where the solution lies. Each of us has to become a prophet of hope - a reason for someone’s tomorrow - especially in light of laws that tell others to give up on hope. For some reason, despite dire warnings from jurisdictions experienced with the cultural effects of euthanasia and assisted suicide, countries and states continue to enact laws that allow doctors to provide lethal injections or drugs to citizens who ‘qualify’ under certain criteria. What was once deemed unthinkable is now an option — and in many ways has become a subtle obligation —as fear of future suffering, losing autonomy or becoming a burden are among the top reasons why people request it.
In my recent film Fatal Flaws: Legalizing Assisted Death, I asked Dutch journalist Gerbert Van Loenen if there was anyone covering the other side of the euthanasia debate. He emphatically responded - ‘I’m afraid no one’. I found this especially alarming because the boundaries of the euthanasia law in the Netherlands are expanding to the point where even people who are ‘tired of life’ might get access to a lethal dose - legally - in the near future. I mean how could things have gone off the rails so badly that a civilized country would actually consider legalizing suicide for what would otherwise be diagnosed as depression and despair? Is it not bad enough that people are now asking for euthanasia at the first diagnosis of terminal illnesses? Where was the media in all of this? Journalists have not been doing their job. This is what inspired me to do more.
Thankfully there are a handful of people who have been doing this issue justice - and one in particular for the past two decades: my friend Alex Schadenberg, International Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition — a position he’s held for the past 20 years. Everywhere I speak, anytime I mention his name, Alex is known and respected. Even those who disagree with him have good things to say about his candour.
In November of 2015, I received an email from Alex asking me to create an information video which would educate people on these issues. He wanted to expose the risks associated with turning these previously criminal acts into some form of health care. Alex has been ringing the alarm bells since 1999, aware that the Kevorkian ideology was slowly trickling across the US border into Canada - and of the subtle but deadly introduction of language that was changing the act of murder into mercy killing; and assisted suicide into something called death with dignity.
With major funding from the EPC, the information video quickly grew into a major documentary called The Euthanasia Deception produced by EPC and DunnMedia. The film took my crew and I through Belgium and various places in Canada where we found a plethora of underrepresented people who were waiting to tell their story on how these laws had deceived them. Patients, family members, medical professionals and ethicists all weighed in to paint a very grim picture of assisted dying laws.
Just months after releasing The Euthanasia Deception, Alex and I heard about a strange phenomenon in the Netherlands called “Euthanasia Week”: an annual event of conferences, films and media interviews all geared at extolling the ‘virtue’ of Holland’s euthanasia law. This became one of the focal points for our next film, Fatal Flaws . It is now being screened and distributed internationally and won numerous awards.
Both films speak with authority because we hear stories from victims directly. As a filmmaker I know how important this is. I’ve seen first hand how the assisted death philosophy defines the person by their illness. This is absurd. We should never be defined by what malady assails us. We are defined by our worth as a created human being, deserving of the best care, the best pain management, the kind of dignity that says “I will walk with you and fight for you to the end - I will never abandon you by ending your life prematurely. As Mark Davis Pickup aptly noted in The Euthanasia Deception, “We should never judge tomorrow based on the fears of today.” Mark has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for over 30 years.
I am formalizing plans for a speaking tour in Australia in August. It would seem the land down under is quickly falling prey to the culture of abandonment which we have sadly embraced here in North America and in parts of Europe. I share the stories of those who bravely came forward on camera to tell me how these laws have taken them or their loved ones to the brink of death. Sadly, some are not living anymore - like 29 year old Aurelia Brouwers whose life was cut short by euthanasia for psychiatric reasons; Tom Mortier’s mother who was euthanized for depression; and Margreet Van der Valk’s mother who was euthanized without request . I carry these heartbreaking stories with me everywhere I speak.
At the end of my talks, people always ask me for one practical thing they can do to stem the tide. Yes, we must step up to inform our politicians and medical professionals of what these laws imply. Sharing these films are a great start. However we must do more. We must challenge ourselves daily to become a prophet of hope: the reason for someone’s tomorrow. It could be as simple as visiting elderly parents, volunteering to drive someone to the hospital or playing Scrabble for an hour with a senior in a nursing home. These are ways we inspire hope in others so they don’t reach for these laws.
It’s been quite a journey creating these films along with with Alex Schadenberg - a true Prophet of Hope for our times. Thanks, too for inspiring me to take this ‘show on the road’ and inspire others. You can be sure I’ll be toasting your 20th - perhaps from some Irish pub in the land down under!
Kevin Dunn can be reached through his Website: www.KevinDunn.info