Canada July 16, 2018

Put down phones and stop abandoning people: euthanasia film director  

By Deborah Gyapong

Filmmaker Kevin Dunn with Aurelia, a young woman from the Netherlands who obtained euthanasia for psychiatric reasons. (DunnMedia images)

OTTAWA (CCN)—The maker of a new documentary on euthanasia says all Canadians have a role to play in preventing euthanasia, but we’ll have to “put down our phones first.”

“We can go visit our aged mother, our aged father, someone at a nursing home,” said Kevin Dunn, co-producer and director of Fatal Flaws: Legalizing Assisted Death. “As simple or altruistic as it sounds, be the reason for somebody’s tomorrow.”

Political efforts are needed to fight for better pain management and palliative care, he said, but more needs to be done at a personal level. “When we have loved ones looking out for us, we don’t need to turn to these laws” that allow euthanasia, he said. “We gotta get out there.”

Fatal Flaws, released in May in Ottawa just before the National March for Life May 10, has been drawing large crowds in locations where it has been screened, most recently, in Hamilton, Ont.

In Guernsey, U.K, Dunn was able to arrange two screenings before Parliament voted on May 18 on a euthanasia bill. A member of Parliament who supported euthanasia was present at one screening. After seeing the film, he changed his mind, spoke up in Parliament and the bill was defeated, Dunn said.

Fatal Flaws, co-produced by Dunn Media and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, is Dunn’s second film on euthanasia.

Stories include families dealing with the unwanted euthanasia of beloved family members in Belgium and the Netherlands; Candace, a young disabled woman in Newfoundland pressured to opt for assisted suicide instead of pursuing treatment for an illness from which she eventually recovered; and the assisted suicide death of a 29-year-old woman suffering from mental health issues, which he called “heartbreaking.”

Dunn met Aurelia on his first trip to the Netherlands at a conference on euthanasia for young people. “I found this young woman who had psychological issues but was able-bodied, talking to me, smiling, laughing,” he said. “I didn’t pretend to know what her life was like with her psychological illness.”

“She was fighting for others for access and for her own, which she could not get from her own GP,” he said.

Kevin Dunn’s documentary Fatal Flaws: Legalizing Assisted Death took him to the Netherlands, Belgium, Oregon, and Canada.

In the film, the viewer meets Aurelia and sees the relationship the filmmaker struck with her after that first meeting, including subsequent conversations via Skype.

Aurelia told him, “I don’t seek to end my life; I seek to end my suffering.”

Dunn told her that if she was encouraged to obtain euthanasia, “we’ve abandoned you as a culture.”

“I spoke to her two weeks before a doctor ended her life,” Dunn said. “I was broken after I found out she had received her request. She had it granted outside of the system through an end-of-life clinic.”

“It was the first person I knew who committed suicide, only somebody helped her do it,” Dunn said. “I saw a culture, a country, I saw people who were egging her on, saying ‘We believe you have that right.’”

“There were celebrities coming to visit her in the end, to cheer her on in her decision,” he said. “How far gone are we as a culture where we’re cheering someone on to their demise?” Aurelia was 29.

“Shouldn’t we be doing everything we possibility can with the best psychiatric help, the best pain management, as opposed to saying ‘This is what you want? We support you,’?” he asked.

“True compassion says I’m going to walk with you until the end,” he said. “Compassion never abandons people.”

“When we embrace these laws, we embrace abandonment,” he said.

There are already pressures for Canada to adopt advanced directives for those with dementia diagnoses, for consent by “mature minors,” and for euthanasia for those with psychiatric illnesses who, like Aurelia, were otherwise able-bodied. “This incremental expansion of the laws is out of control,” Dunn said.

Dunn said his biggest surprise in making the documentary was finding out even the “most staunch advocates in Belgium and the Netherlands are concerned about where these laws are headed.”

In the Netherlands, there is a bill before Parliament that would allow people who are “weary of life” to get access to a doctor’s prescription to end their lives.

Architects of euthanasia laws for those in extreme pain at the very end of life are now fighting against the extension of these laws to able-bodied, healthy people, he said.

Dunn hopes his next film project will be on a subject other than euthanasia, though he will continue to document individual stories as they arise.

“These stories stick with me,” Dunn said. “Talking with these people who have suffered so greatly by these laws or have been tricked by these laws. I carry them with me.”

“I’m hoping to take a bit of a rest from it,” he said. “I don’t know how people like Alex Schadenberg, my co-producer, do it day and day out.”

Without the support of Schadenberg and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the film never would have been made, he said.

“He really believed in it,” said Dunn. “He’s a visionary.”