In the fall of 1979, Keith Burton, a free-lance journalist, saw the videotape 0105 in a bioethics seminar at Southern Methodist University (see annotation in this database). The structural centerpiece of this 1974 documentary is the interview of a burn patient, Donald "Dax" Cowart, by psychiatrist Dr. Robert B. White at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Dr. White had been called in to determine the patient’s competency because of his persistent requests to end the painful treatments, to go home, and to die.

Similar to most viewers of Please Let Me Die, Burton was intrigued by the unanswered questions and the uncertain outcome of the case and ultimately contacted Dax Cowart and his mother, Ada Cowart. Burton invited their collaboration on a follow-up videotape to Please Let Me Die, with the intention of providing "a living record of this man’s struggle for release from pain and despair." [see Keith Burton, "A Chronicle: Dax’s Case As It Happened." In Dax’s Case: Essays In Medical Ethics And Human Meaning, ed. Lonnie D. Kliever. (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press) 1989: 1].


Dax’s Case, an hour-long documentary, was released in 1985 and tells Cowart’s story from the summer of 1973 to the fall of 1984. Expressly produced as an educational film for audiences concerned with complex legal, medical, and ethical decisions, the dominant mode of the documentary is expository as it relays information in a straightforward manner and advances argument in a logical fashion.

The film opens with a vivid retelling by Dax of the terrible accident which killed his father and which resulted in third-degree burns over 68% of his body. His own recollection of and perspective on the pain and suffering endured during treatment and rehabilitation are counterpointed by the memories and opinions of his four treating physicians, his attorney, his mother, and his life-long friend. All the principle characters speak directly to the camera, describing their feelings and articulating their intentions throughout the lengthy life-and-death ordeal.

Just as Dax makes his case for wanting to die, his caregivers explain their unwillingness to respect that wish. The documentary ends without resolution. Although Dax characterizes his present life as a happy and fulfilled one, he yet insists that he should have been allowed to die while those close to him express gratitude that he did not.


The film can be obtained from Filmakers Library,124 East 40th Street, NY, NY 10016; Phone 212-808-4980. email:; Web URL:

Primary Source

Produced by Unicorn Media, Inc. for Concern for Dying