Maarten Nederhorst

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Death on Request

Nederhorst, Maarten

Last Updated: Oct-21-2003
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video


In this documentary film about euthanasia in the Netherlands, a man--Kees van Wendel de Joode--with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease) requests death in his home, to be performed by his doctor, Wilfred Sidney van Oijen. The film mostly consists of what appear to be unscripted discussions between Kees, his wife Antoinette, and the doctor; however, there are also interviews with the doctor and views of the doctor seeing other patients. The film shows the doctor performing euthanasia: we watch him inject a barbiturate and then a muscle relaxant and we see him supporting Antoinette during the bedside deathwatch.

Kees has had a rapid deterioration of his ability to function: he is unable to move his legs and right arm, he can no longer speak coherently, and he is having difficulty swallowing. His wife cares for him in their Amsterdam apartment. The film documents the legal requirements for euthanasia in the Netherlands: Kees's repeated requests for euthanasia, confirmation that he has an incurable disease, the second opinion doctor's visit, and reporting the death to the municipal coroner and public prosecutor.

The film's strength lies in the sensitive treatment of the impact of this request on the patient, his wife, and especially on his doctor. Dr. van Oijen is an introspective man who cares for his patients--he makes house calls, explains medical terms to his patients, touches his patients, and asks what they are concerned about. He allows his patients (Antoinette is, in many ways, his patient too) to weep and be emotional.

The religious and moral dimensions of euthanasia are explored mostly with the doctor, who does not view himself as a wanton killer, but rather a doctor whose duty includes the alleviation of suffering. The film concludes with a voice-over stating the doctor will not sleep this night, but still has a clinic full of patients awaiting him in the morning.

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