Firsthand‘s first documentary of the 2016-17 broadcast season couldn’t be more timely. Weeks after the doctor-assisted death of Shoeless Joe author W.P. Kinsella, “Road to Mercy” treads the controversial topic of doctors taking the lives of patients and the circumstances where they are allowed to do it.
Airing Thursday at 9 p.m. on CBC, Toronto-based filmmaker Nadine Pequeneza’s project focuses on the window between February 2015 and June 2016, after the Supreme Court ruling and before Canada’s first law on medical assistance in dying (MAID). But just because the law was passed doesn’t mean it’s clear cut and that’s what’s discussed in “Road to Mercy.” Which patients should be allowed to die (Just those who are terminally ill? What about car accident victims?) and when (Four months before they’re expected to die? Six?) are just two bullet points up for discussion. While those guidelines are worked out, the patients waiting to die agree on one thing: they want control over how they die and want to do it with dignity.
Among those who provide context in “Road to Mercy” are Maureen Taylor, an advocate for the right to die with dignity and the provincially appointed co-chair of the Ontario Advisory Panel On Physician-Assisted Dying; John Tuckwell, diagnosed with ALS in 2012 and planning his death with the help of his sister and doctor; Amy De Schutter, a 29-year-old fighting mental illness; and Quebec’s Dr. Louis Roy, who advises his ill patient Danielle Lacroix in her final days. (In Quebec, the province pre-empted the Supreme Court, passing end-of-life-care legislation in 2014, which came into effect December 2015. Unlike the Supreme Court decision, the Quebec legislation limits MAID to terminal patients.)
After watching a few minutes of John Tuckwell’s deterioration—he’s still mobile, but needs help standing and can no longer talk—it seems a no-brainer he is allowed to pull the plug. But his physician, Dr. Wendy Johnston, loathes to do it because she doesn’t want that to be an option for her patients. Maureen Taylor acknowledges it’s not all cut-and-dried either; will some segments of society, as a result of the guidelines, be deemed “expendable”?
“Road to Mercy” certainly isn’t a feel-good documentary, but it will cause viewers to pause—if they haven’t already—and consider not only where they stand on the subject of doctor-assisted death but if they’d consider it an option.
Firsthand airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.