The second installment of Louis Theroux Altered States, the new series of BBC2 documentaries covering such heavy topics as adoption, polyamory and euthanasia, begins with him reading the label of a sick woman's medication: "Death usually occurs within 30 minutes." The patient's response? "Getting this drug to kill me allowed me to live. This is the paradox.
You do not have a more exciting opening to a program than that.
Theroux is in California, one of seven states where it is legal for doctors to prescribe end-of-life medication for terminally ill patients. The cost of lethal revenue is $ 350 (£ 270). But there are conditions: people are expected to die within the next six months, are sound minded and strong enough to administer the dosage on their own. What these desperately ill people want is die the best way possible.
During this intense television hour, Theroux spends time with three people considering ending their lives.
First we meet Gus Thomasson, a retired respiratory therapist who is married to twin daughters and a new grandchild – and who has stage four pancreatic cancer. He is thinking of using his 357 Magnum or riding his motorcycle very fast, but these options are very confusing or may not work. "I knew I would not die in pain. This is going to kill me. Why should I wait to do this? I'll kill this", He says with a laugh.His family, of course, is not laughing: Struggling to maintain support, they quickly wipe away tears.
The crux of this program is empathy, and Theroux has plenty of it, which is why there could be no better presenter to tackle such a distressing subject. Speaking openly to the most vulnerable people, he does all the necessary journalistic research with compassion and sensitivity.
He lovingly puts Gus' grandson on his knee, and when he finds Laurie, a mother whose cancer has spread everywhere, he joins his 11-year-old son to let his pet snake slip backwards before. joining him on the floor to interview him.
Altered States is an impeccable documentary: complete in its examination of the ethics surrounding euthanasia and presenting the perspectives of all those affected. But it's a difficult sight. The moment mother and son fix their eyes as they discuss their understanding of why someone would take the fatal dose, and their painfully direct response, "But they will die anyway. Because you know, I do not want to die, "is particularly devastating.
It gives an essential voice to patients who are led to such difficult decisions. "How we die affects the people we leave behind for the rest of their lives," Laurie explains. "My husband has to go to work, my son has to go to school, why would I want to force them to see me so broken? I'm sure he's been traumatic enough for them. "You can not argue with that.
Theroux finds the greatest ethical challenge in Oregon, where a group called Outbound Network offers technical advice to people who wish to die but are not necessarily terminally ill. They are "helping" Dorothy, a 65-year-old woman, heartbroken by the death of her husband five months earlier, who is in a wheelchair and suffers from dementia symptoms after a car accident. Not only does she have no funds for therapy that could help her, but tragically she has no family or friends. "My question to you is that you would like to live this life?" She asks Theroux. As you might know unless you were trying on yourself, Theroux ponders.
It is also with Dorothy that Theroux makes his only false step: to suggest that she pass from the loss of her husband. Again, how could he know?
The Final Exit Network was previously sued for its role in guiding people to death. Theroux is always respectful and never accuses, but his tense body language suggests mistrust and an air of sadness. In front of Theroux's line of interrogation, half of the double Final Exit Network looks very nervous. Seeing the beginning of her demonstration of how Dorothy can end her life with the equipment they advised to buy, it is shocking, just like the moment they report to Theroux that she has achieved her wish. – and that they were there.
"We provide a service to help someone administer death on their own terms. Especially the older people with nothing to live for … She's a perfect case to say, "If I die tomorrow, no one will miss me." You feel Theroux's concerns about how people can end their lives simply by not being alone, andYou wonder why this organization did not open a company, perhaps a charity, to help relieve loneliness of people.
So you see yourself reflecting on Dorothy's earlier comment: "This is not happening to anyone else. That's just about me. " And you can not argue with your personal and private choice. When in the end we see Gus succumb to his fatal dose at home, surrounded by his loving family, you can only respect your right to die well.
Altered States compels the viewer to question how he would react to his own terminal illness or the desires of someone who was suffering-to throw the judgment out the window and sympathize fully. And empathy is something that this society desperately needs. This is the most provocative television.