Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Road To Mercy: Must-See TV

I have to admit I kept postponing watching my screener of the new CBC-TV documentary Road To Mercy.
The subject is mercy killing and I'd lost a dear friend last year  (journalist Eric McGuinness) who fought two bouts of colon cancer and then was told it had spread to his pancreas.
After enduring great pain for months he arranged a termination in Switzerland because under Canadian law any sort of assisted death was illegal.
In a piece written for Canadian newspapers Eric argued persuasively that we deny to humans what we routinely do to terminally ill pets.
But when I finally watched Road To Mercy I was struck by its absolute compassion and balance.
You can check for yourself: Road To Mercy premiers on CBC-TV's FirstHand Thursday October 6 at 9 p.m.
And this was not surprising because I've regularly reviewed the fine documentaries of veteran film maker Nadine Pequeneza of Toronto's Hit Play Productions.
After much debate medically assisted death has been pronounced legal after a decision by the Canadian Supreme Court .
"It remains controversial,"Pequenza tells me on the phone. "And the challenge was to give everybody fair time within the 44 minutes of today's TV hour."
Pequeneza wisely chose to chronicle three cases and give a human face to the issue.
"I wanted to touch all the bases. And there was the actual problem of filming them and respecting the boundaries. I knew when to turn off the camera."
By far the most heart rendering case is that of John Tuckwell of Edmonton who was a vigorous physical fitness buff  until he came down with ALS in 2012 --it;s also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
We watch his grim determination merely to breathe and share the grief of his aged parents and the devotion of sister Cathy.
His ALS physician Dr. Wendy Johnston is deeply sympathetic but can't personally offer such a solution --like many physicians dedicated to saving life instead of snuffing it out.
By contrast Dr. Louis Roy of Quebec City wants to help his terminally ill patient Danielle Lacroix--the Quebec legislature permits physician assisted deaths but only for terminal patients.
In Belgium we meet a brilliant 29-year old woman Amy De Schutter --Belgium is "progressive" in this area and grants certificates for degenerative diseases.
A university graduate, Amy has battled depression and suicide attempts since her teens. Her talks with her mother are particularly sad.
And there's advocate Maureen Taylor who argues for the right to die with dignity and understands the reservations of many people with deep religious beliefs.
Pequeneza has brilliantly captured the essence of each individual with pertinent questioning and tight editing.
"I wanted to show that in Belgium the criteria has expanded.But it was the human element that interested me, how these people were coping."
An hour that I hesitated to watch instead became for me a deeply compassionate study of how society is treating those dangerously ill.
"There is a more comprehensive 80-minute version", Pequeneza says. "And it will be shown and perhaps even get a TV berth someday."
For now this version will do quite well. Here is one hour I want to watch again down the road.
And in a new TV season where Canadian shows seem on life support along comes a Canadian made documentary that is first class all the way.
MY RATING: ****.

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