Reviewer biography

Current Reviews

Review Articles

Book Reviews Archive

EXIT: The Right to Die

by Fernand Melgar
First Run/Icarus Films, Brooklyn, NY, USA, 2005
VHS, 75 mins., colour
Sales, Video-DVD: $440 USD; Rental, Video: $125 USD
Distributor’s website: http://www.frif.com.

Reviewed by Rob Harle (Australia)


"My Life – My Choice", the slogan on a tee-shirt worn by an Exit helper in this powerful and poignant film, sums up the basic message of the film succinctly.

As the cliché goes, the two things we cannot avoid are "taxes and death". EXIT: The Right To Die confronts the viewer, head-on, with their own mortality. Even if you have been involved with the death of loved ones, had close brushes with death yourself and you are calmly resigned to the inevitability of bodily demise, this film will touch that inner, primal aspect that brings about an uneasiness. Take an extra deep breath; swallow just a bit harder.

The film is produced in a sensitive and caring way. It is in colour, runs for 75 minutes, and the camera work is excellent and well suited to the subject matter. Unfortunately for English viewers, the language of the film is French with English subtitles. I say unfortunately, because as with most subtitled movies, they are hard to read — white text over white or pale background much of the time becomes tedious. Why haven’t film producers realised this yet? My other minor criticism of this film is the lack of background music, it would have benefited greatly from the addition of a sensitive, instrumental style sound track.

EXIT focuses specifically on the structure, modus operandi and activities of the Exit Organization based in French speaking Switzerland. This organization is fully legal and supported by the relevant governmental authorities, who are clearly well advanced in humanitarian respects than are most other Western bureaucracies. The film moves smoothly through three areas of Exit’s week-to-week activities: (1) Membership, rules, meetings that give the viewer an idea of just what Exit can and cannot do, together with the pressures facing such an organization. (2) Interviews with terminally ill men and women. These discussions are frank and at times quite moving. (3) Perhaps, most significantly the work of the "helpers" including brief glimpses of their own personal lives.

Exit has over 10,000 members, aged between 21 and 103 years of age. This membership grows steadily and is fast outstripping the resources and energy of Exit and its volunteer helpers. The demand for this service — of counselling, comforting and administering the final "magic potion" to terminally ill persons — by both Swiss residents and overseas enquirers attests to the fact that a great many human beings (sane, psychologically stable, decent, life loving people) believe it is their right to self-deliverance in respect of how and when they will stop living. Before you think of darting off to Switzerland to "bump yourself off" legally, you must be a permanent resident of this country and an existing member of Exit. As one government official said, "We do not wish to encourage Euthanasia Tourism! And as one helper said to a person facing imminent death, "Fortunately we live in Switzerland".

As with Mademoiselle and the Doctor (see my review Leonardo Reviews, June 2006) this film has a doctor and main female character. Dr Sobol’s role is similar to Dr Philip Nitschke’s and Micheline, a terminally ill woman, is Lisette Nigot’s counterpart. After watching both these films I must confess to finding it incomprehensible that a politician or leader of a religious organization can treat terminally ill people with such contempt. I say contempt, because to deny a person their wishes because of the other’s own beliefs is to treat them as ignorant children. To act as a "holier than thou" go-between, to my mind, is the greatest sin imaginable because it influences a person in a way that prevents that person fulfilling their own destiny in the eyes of God. Hypocritically these anti-euthanasia fanatics accuse the terminally ill person of "playing" God when it is actually they who are assuming this role. This film does not dwell too long on this aspect of the voluntary euthanasia dilemma.

To my knowledge, voluntary euthanasia is legal in The Netherlands and the U.S state of Oregon, but in 2005, the time Fernand Melgar and Jean-Marc Henchoz made this film, Switzerland was the only country where suicide assistance was legal. That is, non-medical helpers or carers actually administer the "magic potion" when the time comes, it goes without saying that Exit and its helpers are governed by precise regulations.

The film portrays the emotional drain the intense volunteer work has on the Exit helpers, juxtaposed with the trust and mutual respect which develops, over time, between them and their terminally ill companions. The final ten minutes will leave an indelible impression on even the most hard-headed amongst us. Little wonder this film won many Best Documentary awards. Together with Mademoiselle and the Doctor it will become a landmark reference in the humanitarian fight for individual human rights, self-determination and self-deliverance.



Updated 1st September 2006

Contact LDR: ldr@leonardo.org

Contact Leonardo: isast@leonardo.info

copyright © 2006 ISAST