Robert Schwartz is dying from AIDS at the age of 50. He’s had many complications and many close calls in the last ten years. The film begins with Robert on his way to Oregon’s Medical Science University to pick up a lethal dose of drugs that have been prescribed to him legally under the State’s Death with Dignity Act.
Oregon is one of the few states in the US to allow the medical procedure in which doctors prescribe these lethal dosages to terminally ill patients in order for them to end their lives. Robert is one of the first patients to opt for assisted suicide.
The law clearly states that Robert must take the pills by himself. No one is allowed to help him do this. Robert has been instructed to say his goodbyes and then swallow close to 90 capsules of secobarbital. Allegedly he will be in a coma within five minutes and after that there’s no point of return.
It’s important to understand that it’s not just about somebody showing up and asking a doctor to assist him or her in suicide. There are forms that need to be filled out including two oral requests and one written request. Also, two doctors have to confirm that the patient has less than six months to live and either of them may insist on a psychological evaluation to rule out depression.
Robert worked for many years as an EMT where he witnessed death firsthand. He remembers patients begging him to help them die and it never made sense that he could help his dog die, but not a human being that was suffering. For Robert it’s an issue of quality of life versus quantity and the quantity has become irrelevant.
Along with his former partner, Robert was an activist in the initiative to make the Death with Dignity Act a law in Oregon.
Many might argue that it’s not an act of compassion at all. But once a patient has suffered from as many complications as Robert has, it makes no sense to try to artificially prolong his or her life. Are medical doctors playing God or is this really an act of compassion?