Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

EXIT: The Right To Die

Illustration for article titled EXIT: The Right To Die

Though the end results are the same, there's a world of difference between a solitary soul slitting his wrists in a filthy efficiency and going undiscovered until strangers notice the stench emanating from his apartment, and a person engaging in assisted suicide while surrounded by loved ones. Switzerland is currently the only country in the world where assisted suicide is legal, and a group called EXIT is committed to helping those in unbearable pain end their lives with as much dignity as possible. Fernand Melgar's heart-wrenching documentary EXIT: The Right To Die offers an empathetic (albeit lo-fi) cinéma vérité look at EXIT and the knotty emotional issues surrounding assisted suicide.

EXIT receives more requests for its assistance than it can possibly provide, so part of its job involves delineating between legitimate and illegitimate requests for its help in facilitating assisted suicides. The group wants to make sure that the people it assists are choosing assisted suicide for the right reasons, and not because of momentary funks or to get back at lovers who spurned them. This raises all sorts of tricky questions. At one point in the film, the group ponders whether to help an elderly couple: One of the pair is terminally ill, while the other is in fine health, but doesn't want to continue on alone. EXIT's members certainly appear to be helping people pursue assisted suicide for the right reasons. In Right To Die, the act of helping people end their lives— "self-deliverance," as it's euphemized—is an act of extraordinary compassion, tenderness, and emotional intimacy.

EXIT was shot on video and assembled rather artlessly, but it's viscerally powerful all the same. Though cocktail-party chatter among EXIT members—conversation that inevitably circles around to assisted suicide—provides a few welcome moments of levity, EXIT proceeds with gravity befitting its subject, en route to a haunting climax in which the stakes at play in assisted suicide become agonizingly clear. In the wrenching final scene, the concept of "dying with dignity" becomes much more than just a catchphrase used to justify a controversial practice.