and the Doctor
First Run/Icarus Films, Brooklyn, NY,
Video, color, 90 mins.
Distributors Website: http://www.frif.com.
Reviewed by Rob Harle
This is a powerful, beautiful, and
memorable film. Mademoiselle and the
Doctor is not only the story of Lisette
Nigots voluntary euthanasia but
also the story of many others, named and
unnamed, who believe in an individuals
right to self-determination in respect
of choosing how and when to die.
Janine Hosking has created a provocative
and confronting film, which is done somewhat
paradoxically in a gentle and sensitive
way. The film is in colour, runs for 90
minutes, and features some wonderful background
photography and excellent camerawork.
Whilst the theme song is good, I think
a little more appropriate background instrumental
music would have added an extra touch.
The Mademoiselle of the film is
Lisette Nigot, a 79- year old academic
in apparently excellent mental and physical
health, living in Perth, Western Australia.
Lisette decided she did not wish to live
past 80 and would, therefore, commit voluntary
euthanasia prior to her eightieth birthday.
Enter the Doctor of the film, Dr.
Philip Nitschke, founder and leader of
Exit International, an organization that
provides information and support for those
seeking advice regarding voluntary euthanasia.
Lisettes story is woven into the
film and features many frank discussions
with Nitschke both prior to and after
Lisette was somewhat of a rebel: She never
married, lived alone, had no chilDr.en,
and pursued a fairly high profile career.
She could not handle the way the body
deteriorates and the mind, in many cases,
stays young. She did not wish to suffer
what she saw as the indignities of old
age and made the decision to end her own
life in a gentle and peaceful way while
she was still able to do this. As Nitschke
points out towards the end of the film
that it was not only the issues of voluntary
euthanasia that Lisettes case raised
but the fact that she was a healthy woman
with possibly several good years left.
Many people, regardless of their attitude
to voluntary euthanasia of terminally
ill persons, found this action very confronting,
given that most of us try to stay alive
as long as possible. In Cicardis
words, "Life will do anything for a living".
Public opinion regarding voluntary euthanasia
seems to be polarised into two factions:
The majority who agree that voluntary
euthanasia for terminally ill persons
should be a legal and dignified option
and those who are vehemently opposed to
it. This film, whilst very much pro-voluntary
euthanasia, also shows footage of the
incoherent, hysterical protests of the
minoritywhich in most
cases is underpinned by fanatical, fundamentalist
religious beliefs. "Dr.. Death" and "Nitschke
is a new Hitler" are some of the absurd
labels applied by these people to Dr..
One of the most poignant scenes in the
film is the story of Max, a very old man,
with terminal stomach cancer. He pleads
with nurses, doctors, and Dr.. Nitschke
to help him pass away peacefully and with
dignity. Due to the laws in Australia,
these caring, sensitive medical workers
can do no such thing. As the film points
out, Maxs extreme suffering is directly
caused by those who oppose voluntary euthanasia
and those who make legislation or overturn
Since this film was made, the situation
has changed in Australia. In January 2006
legislation came into force that makes
a person guilty of an offence if the person;
"uses a carriage service [fax, email,
telephone, web site] to publish or otherwise
distribute material" and "the material
directly or indirectly counsels or incites
committing or attempting to commit suicide".1
This new criminal law has forced Exit
International to move its web site and
operations to New Zealand, where freedom
of speech is still allowed! If this film,
as it stands, was made now those involved
would face heavy penalties and gaol sentences.
The film discusses methods, Dr.ugs, and
examples of how a person may peacefully
and gently commit suicide. In Australia
we have the absurd situation where it
is legal to kill yourself but illegal
to assist in any way other people
to kill themselves!
Opponents of voluntary euthanasia (for
terminally ill persons with medical safeguards
to prevent abuse) usually cite religious
reasons why it should be unlawful, or,
shy away from reasonable debate by saying
voluntary euthanasia is such an emotional
issue that we cannot discuss it calmly.
Both of these reasons are invalid and
have nothing to do with the matter at
all. The only issue at stake is allowing
another human being the right to self-determination
both in life and death.
The definition of a hero is "a person
of distinguished courage or performance."
This brilliant film gives a glimpse of
three such heroes: Dr.. Philip Nitschke,
Lisette Nigot, and Janine Hosking. The
film will become a classic and a landmark
in the humanitarian fight for individual
human rights and self-determination.
1. Criminal Code Amendment (Suicide Related
Material Offences) Act 2005. No.92, 2005).
Australian Federal Government.