A Good Death
Short Film for
By Sammy Ringer
The following is a fictional account and features fictional people and situations except for DR PHILLIP NITSCHKE, who plays himself.
52 Palm St
Maleny Qld 4552
0498 313 068
1. KITCHEN. AFT 1.
JACK, 75 and very thin, makes a cup of tea slowly and methodically.
You get to be a bit of an expert on your own disease, you know? Doctors have so many to worry about but you only have one. I have Guy Luhmers. Doesn’t sound too deadly, does it?
When I first met Jack, he was dying. Slowly. And very painfully. He allowed us to make this record of his final months…
2. INT LIVING ROOM/HOME VIDEO FOOTAGE. BACK YARD 2.
JACK sits watching a video. On it, JACK and his WIFE ELSIE with their SON, DAUGHTER-IN-LAW and GRANDCHILDREN at a BBQ.
Elsie died five years ago. Took her quite a long time. John, that’s my son, there, see? The one with the smart-arse smile – he and his wife broke up. He got a job in Papua New Guinea. Pretty messy divorce. We don’t see the grandchildren.
3. RADIO STATION. 3.
Dr Phillip Nitschke sits at the mike.
So who decides what dangerous information must be kept secret? If I publish the details of common weeds which can be used for a peaceful death, is that illegal? I mean – what information could be so evil that a person, when they got it, would be unable to do anything but rush out and do something irreversible – like killing themselves? We now have the right to free speech, the right to silence, the right to life – but we don’t have the right to a dignified death.
4. JACK’S HALLWAY. DAY 4.
We walk with JACK – who reads a letter.
I made plans to go to the Netherlands. Civilised country, that. Had the choice of trying to sell the house or refinancing it. Property market’s down. Could have taken years to sell…
‘…unfortunately, the bank cannot approve your application for refinancing of your current mortgage…blah blah blah.
He folds the letter and carefully puts it back into its envelope. Smiles sadly.
Didn’t really want to die in a foreign place, anyway…
5A. LIVING ROOM. NIGHT 5A.
It is a small room and crowded. Many elderly people but also a few middle-aged.
JACK sits between an old woman and a man in his forties. The CONVENOR stands.
The room’s burble of conversation dies immediately.
Thank you for all coming and welcome to the camera crew who have come with Jack tonight.
A few people look to the camera.
Our mutual desire for death with dignity is what brings us here and the friendships we make are what keep us here. We have a full evening tonight with a very interesting speaker…
5B. LIVING ROOM. NIGHT. TRANSITION 5B.
The room as before but now a short man in a suit stands at the front. He has a heavy plastic bag with straps attached to it. He holds it up to demonstrate.
Administration of a Valium-type sedative will induce sleep and this will ensure an incident free exit.
People are leaning forward to see it better.
The SHORT MAN demonstrates the straps
If these are pulled snugly into place and the fit around the neck is checked, it is totally effective. I’ll be honest with you here and say that, for – witnesses or family, this could be a more disturbing method than say – injection. However, there are no convulsions, no vomiting…
6 KITCHEN/DAY 6
What other options have you looked at? Apart from the exit bag?
There is a long pause.
I’m no coward, but I just don’t think I could suicide, you know? With a gun or walking out in front of a train. It’s not right – it’s angry. I’m not angry. I’m just tired. Tired, you know? I want to go. But not messy.
And the bag?
JACK looks at the camera as though he is unsure. Clears his throat.
Well, this may sound strange to you but there’s no – dignity in that. I don’t fancy Ronno coming in and finding me with a plastic bag over my face. Silly, perhaps…
How long have you been told you have?
A year. They can’t agree. They said 6 months with Elsie’s cancer and it was three years…
There is a pause. JACK looks down.
7.A EXT. HOUSE/DAY 7A.
That was six months ago. Since then, Jack’s condition has deteriorated and he is in constant pain. He has not told his son in Papua New Guinea.
We pull in to see JACK seated inside a closed-in verandah, a man seated next to him.
7B. VERANDAH/CONTINUOUS 7.B
JACK sits under a blanket on a chaise lounge. RON, about his age but quite portly, sits near him.
I’ve known Jack since – uh…
56! Christ, Ronno, your memory’s as bad as my gut!
Two grumpy old men!
RON laughs just a little.
Yes, two grumpy old men…
Well, here we go!
RON, very awkward but determined, pulls out a tobacco tin and lifts a joint from it. He puts it in JACK’s mouth and lights it.
You’re breaking the law.
RON nods but says nothing. JACK coughs twice but pulls on the joint again.
Made a criminal of him in his old age!
RON picks up a plastic pill tray.
Uh, see here it’s got them all labelled so you know what he has to take.
RON looks very serious, even frightened.
We’ve got morphine. By mouth, up the ass, you name it. Uh – all sorts of stuff for pain. It doesn’t work.
JACK takes another deep toke and smiles at the camera.
7C. VERANDAH/DAY/CONTINUOUS 7C.
RON now sits with a can of beer. JACK looks more relaxed.
Fishing. Ron and I here have been fishing mates for almost –
More than forty.
Jesus! You’re right. More than forty years. Haven’t done much recently. I’d like to. What do you reckon, Ronno?
Be nice, eh? Out in the tinny…
8. INT. LIVING ROOM. DAY 8
JACK sits on the sofa.
Went to the doc. Said ‘I want to be able to end this suffering when I can no longer stand it.’
PHILLIP NITSCHKE (on the radio)
…giving people honest answers to straightforward questions
Doc said ‘I can understand that.’ I said ‘I’d like you to help me.’ He said ‘I can’t do that.’
PHILLIP NITSCHKE (on the radio)
…does not constitute advising, encouraging, or otherwise assisting a person to end their life.
So I took out this list – here it is – and I told him I’d been keeping all my left-over medication over the years and maybe he could indicate to me – as a warning – which combinations and amounts might be deadly. He said – I remember this – ‘That could be construed as aiding, abetting or counselling the suicide of another person.’
JACK shakes his head
So I said, ‘Do you think, if I went down to the Gateway Bridge and went to the top and jumped, I might die?’ and he looked at me and said ‘There is a very good chance you would.’
PHILLIP NITSCHKE (on the radio)
If it did, anyone who talked or wrote about poisonous plants or the danger of tall bridges could be charged.
9. RADIO STUDIO 9.
NITSCHKE as before
There was a patient, he was dying and he was in horrific pain. He needed a respirator to stay alive. All this man had to do was turn the respirator off and he would no longer be alive. He was lucky. Many people in a position like his don’t have a respirator they can switch off when it becomes unbearable.
10. JACK’S VERANDAH. EVE 10
JACK almost expertly rolls a joint.
Pentobarbital, that’s the best. Trouble is it can take quite a long time so they reckon you should mix it with diazepam or alcohol.
Problem is, you wouldn’t know how much of what to mix – could bugger it up something terrible. Now injection’s the way to go. Take it orally and you might chuck the whole lot up. If you can’t get a hold of a syringe, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got an antiemitic. Course you can’t get the drugs anyway so it’s all a bit of a mute argument, isn’t it? Anyway, I wouldn’t do that because chances are it wouldn’t work and I’d end up in intensive care.
You knew the Doctor wouldn’t assist you, didn’t you?
JACK squints at the camera through the smoke.
He points a finger at the camera.
But I want that bit in! I don’t want anyone saying I didn’t try every avenue.
11. WORK AREA. DAY 11.
DR PHILLIP NITSCHKE faces the camera.
I used a machine, yes, a machine hooked up to a laptop computer. The patient had the laptop and followed the menu. Here, the program…
He hits a few keys on his own laptop.
looked like this…
He clicks on the right button and the following appears:
He clicks on ‘Yes’
NITSCHKE turns from his laptop and looks to the camera.
This was called the ‘self-deliverance machine’. When the Northern Territory gets statehood, you can bet that legislation will be brought back in. They’re a pretty determined lot up there and don’t like the feeling that Canberra’s walked all over them. And for those politicians and others who helped revoke the Euthanasia Law – I would like each and every one of them to come and sit next to a terminally ill patient, in pain and wanting nothing more – nothing more – than a peaceful death. a terminally ill patient, in pain and wanting nothing more – nothing more – than a peaceful death.
12. LIVING ROOM. DAY 12
JACK sits in a chair with a blanket over his knees. He looks pretty bad. RON sits somewhat in the background. An intense man in his thirties, GERALD, balances a cup of tea and numerous bits of paper.
Terminal sedation is the best compromise Doctors have come up with.
He finds a clipping.
Here –“In the end, Barbara Faden, 50, went to sleep and had a good death. She was given a Valium-type sedative (to sleep) along with opioid medication (for the pain) and slipped into a coma. Her family kept vigil. About a week later, on Aug. 13, 1999, she died. "We sat in the room." said her mother, Cynthia Zirinsky. "She was smiling. She wasn't scrunched up in pain as she had been all year. She was beautiful."
GERALD puts the clipping down and looks at JACK
You can ask to be put to sleep. If the pain becomes unmanageable, the doctor can put you to sleep to relieve your suffering. If you’re asleep, you’re not eating, eventually you’ll die.
3-7 days, depending.
Why don’t I just stop eating here?
Well, you’d have to find a doctor who would administer the drugs in your home and monitor you. You’d need someone with you twenty four hours a day.
Though JACK doesn’t look at him, RON nods.
Do you know of a doctor?
GERALD looks to the camera nervously.
It tilts down and we fade out.
13. JACK’S BEDROOM AFT. 13.
JACK sits propped up in bed, smiling weakly.
Well, thank you. Thank you. Yes, I am very tired. Ron?
RON appears and rearranges a pillow for JACK, turns away so the camera cannot see his face. JACK is smiling.
FADE TO – JACK’S BEDROOM/HALLWAY. NIGHT.
RON sits next to the bed.
He looks very peaceful.
RON nods, rearranges a bit of the cover.
FADE TO – JACK’S BEDROOM/HALLWAY. NIGHT
RON is now asleep in the chair. We see movement of JACK’s hand.
What? What? Oh shit shit shit…
JACK’s head is turning from side to side.
The camera follows RON as he runs clumsily down the hall.
INTERVIEWER OS (nervous)
Why’s he awake?
RON OS (equally nervous)
Oh shit, not enough. I don’t know.
Has the doctor been called?
He’s coming, oh jesus, jesus…
14. RON’S LIVING ROOM, NIGHT. 14
RON looks drained. He doesn’t look at the camera.
Opiate intolerance – he’s had so much of the bloody stuff he’s sort of immune to it. Anyway he’s going to have to have a hell of a lot of it to stay knocked out. The doc was shitting bricks, jesus.
We stay with RON
We remained in the house with Ron for three days. Jack faded in and out of sleep. The doctor finally called it quits. Jack wanted so badly to sleep but his body just wouldn’t let him…
15. VERANDAH. AFT 15.
JACK is under his blanket. He looks like a skeleton. RON holds a glass of water to his mouth.
Well, I haven’t eaten in five days and there you are. You should call me the miracle man.
Pull in to JACK’s face where a tear is slowly forming and rolling down his cheek.
RON’s head appears as he stoops to press his head against his friend’s.
Don’t even have the strength to drag on a joint so we’ve stuck a wad up my ass. Wouldn’t know. Don’t think it’s working. Got to laugh, eh, Ronno?
16. JACK’S LIVING ROOM. AFT 16.
RON sits with a pile of clippings. He lifts one and reads.
“He told interrogating police he loved her so much he "couldn't see her going through any more". He admitted he had first tried to kill his wife by modifying an electrical cord with a "male" plug on both ends, sticking the one end into electric socket and putting the other on to his wife's chest. When that failed he smothered her with a pillow.”
He puts it down with a simple nod.
Used to read stuff like that and think ‘poor bugger!’ or sometimes you’d just think it was murder…you never think you’re going to be in a position..
I mean, it’s not the same as he were me wife or something but we’ve, you know we’ve been mates for uh – hell, most of our lives. Long time. Sorry. Could you…
He motions the camera away.
17. WORK AREA. DAY/INTERCUT WITH OFFICE 17.
People say ‘he lost his battle against cancer, he struggled unsuccessfully against…’ why does it have to be a struggle? The terminally ill fight the battle and endure the suffering and many physicians feel uncomfortable when no cure can be offered. These feelings of discomfort can lead physicians to create a safe emotional distance from dying patients. Terminal sedation may be an option for those whose pain is unbearable. A morphine drip is a way of managing pain but over a period of time it can kill by depressing respiration…this is aggressive palliation - the pain is relieved but the death is hastened.
CHARLES, in his late fifties, frowns angrily. SUPER:
‘CHARLES WANDWORTH, Anti Euthanasia Movement’
The assisted suicide movement is not about reducing suffering, it's not about improving medical care, it's not about medical reform, it's about murder. Assisted suicide isn't medicine, it's killing. If you have a doctor putting a plastic bag over somebody's head, it's not medicine, it is killing. Here I have a suicide bag that I bought, through the mail. It's called the "exit bag." This is what this movement is about. Quote, "The customized exit bag is made of clear, strong industrial plastic. It has an adjustable collar with elastic sewn in back, and a six-inch velcro strip in front for a snug but comfortable fit. It is extra large, 22 inches by 36 inches, to reduce heat build-up. It comes with a flannel lining inside the collar so that the plastic won't irritate sensitive skin." The people who sent this to me didn't know whether I was going to put it on my head, they didn't though whether I was going to put it on my wife's head, they didn't know whether I was going to put it on my mother's head, they didn't know whether I was going to put it on my child's head, and they didn't care, and that is all we have to know about this movement.
18. JACK’S BEDROOM. AFT 18.
JACK sits propped in the bed, hooked up to an elaborate IV. He is scrunched up in pain. JACK hold downs a button.
Pain killer. Self administered. There, see?
Is it working?
Now, if I hold this down for long enough, I’ll finally get a lethal dose.
He laughs without any humour, stops in pain.
Trouble is, it knocks you out, see? It’s designed so you have to be conscious to use it. Child proof.
Tell you, I’d rather be fishing.
19. KITCHEN. DAY 19.
RON makes soup as he talks.
He wants me to do it. Shit. Don’t blame him.
It would be against the law.
Shit yes. That’s not the thing.
No, I wouldn’t give a stuff. Shit, they could put me in jail, that’s bloody nothing.
What’s the thing?
I’m just bloody scared. Shit, you’d think it was the least you could do for a mate. Wouldn’t you?
RON bites his lip.
20. OUTSIDE HOUSE. MORN 20.
Jack stopped eating three days ago. The pain killers are no longer working. Out of respect, we have stopped taping him. Jack has lost control of many of his bodily functions but his mind still seems clear.
We move to reveal a station wagon in the driveway with a boat hooked up to it.
21. VERANDAH. MORN. CONTINUOUS 21
RON carefully packs a bag with fishing gear. His nervousness is gone, he seems calm.
Yellow jacket, maybe flathead, been a few good runs recently. Used to go up Rendell Beach but it’s getting too bloody crowded. Jack and I have our own little possey. Bit of a trade secret, eh?
22. BEACH. MORNING. 22.
A tinnie putters out to sea. We can just distinguish a small figure in it. We pull out slowly to reveal RON, standing on the rocks, watching it. RON turns to the camera and, for the first time, he smiles. We hold on this.
Euthanasia – Latin you know. Eu – ‘good’ and thantos – ‘death’. A good death. Yup. No better way to go. When it’s time.