John Zaritsky’s documentary, which was originally produced for Canadian television and later broadcast on the PBS program “Frontline,” focuses on the final days Craig Ewert, a Chicago college professor whose health deteriorated with the onset of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Ewert and his wife Mary traveled to Zurich in 2006 to take advantage of Swiss laws that allow assisted suicide to take place.
Working with the Swiss nonprofit group Dignitas, Ewert was able to end his life through the ingestion of a lethal sedative. The film specifically avoids the bigger picture debate on the moral and legal dimensions of suicide in general and assisted suicide in particular – U.S. policy is barely mentioned – and everyone in the film goes out of their way to insist that Ewert made his fatal decision on his own accord. Ewert made it very clear that he could not anticipate a future where he is reduced to a near-total paralytic state.
Some people might question the good taste in having Ewert’s videotaped for public presentation – his departure is a non-convulsive drift into a permanent sleep on a bed in a rented Zurich apartment, with his wife and two Dignitas members present. Nonetheless, the film offers a clear and unapologetic argument for people of sound mind but severely damaged bodies to be able to make the decision on their state of longevity.