Mademoiselle and the Doctor
By Janine Hosking
Mademoiselle Lisette Nigot appears to be a highly unconventional candidate for euthanasia. At 79, she is in good health, feels no pain, and does not seem depressed. But in Mademoiselle and the Doctor, expressing her fears of encroaching old age and physical decline, she simply declares that she sees no reason to continue living.
The current international debate about the right to die — involving legal restrictions, religious objections, and medical ethics — is comprehensively examined in this thought-provoking, illuminating documentary. The eponymous protagonists of Mademoiselle and the Doctor are Nigot, a retired French-born professor, and Dr. Philip Nitschke, a proponent of euthanasia who counsels those who want control over their own deaths.
Dr. Nitschke is alternately condemned by some as "Doctor Death" and hailed by others as a "medical hero." Before a Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was overturned by the Australian Parliament in 1997, Nitschke was the first doctor in the world to legally administer voluntary euthanasia. Through his organization, Exit International, Nitschke leads workshops that provide medical and legal advice on how to achieve death with dignity. As a committed author and lecturer, he emphasizes the tragic schism on this issue between justice and the law.
Mademoiselle and the Doctor shows Nitschke at work, counseling elderly participants in his workshops, demonstrating several "do it yourself" suicide machines (including a "death computer" and a carbon monoxide generator), speaking at a Hemlock Society conference in California (where a bodyguard protects him from religious protestors), experiencing a police raid on his home, and debating with Connie Chung on CNN. We see case studies of several of his terminally ill patients, including a heart-rending video diary of a stomach-cancer patient whose right to a peaceful death is prohibited by law.
It is Lisette Nigot, however, who clearly represents the ultimate test case for a legalized policy of voluntary euthanasia. Throughout an extended discussion, this intelligent, rational woman offers articulate and often witty replies to the filmmaker's objections that she has no reason to die.
Before Mademoiselle and the Doctor reaches its dramatic conclusion, it has made a persuasive argument as to why the right to die should be guaranteed by law. As one Exit workshop participant says, complaining about the present lack of freedom of choice in matters of life and death, a society that aims to support quality of life should also be concerned with the quality of dying.
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"Provocative, and even profound, at times, in its treatment of the questions of life and death...a compelling narrative." Bridges: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Theology, Philosophy, History, and Science
"Recommended! [Provides] many insightful instances where one will stop and ponder about our rights as individuals verses society's right to make choices on our behalf." Educational Media Reviews Online
"Whether you agree or disagree with the issue of euthanasia this documentary is a must-see!" Pop Politics
"A restrained, matter-of-fact, sometimes surprisingly humorous document [and] beautifully constructed piece of cinema, with a cumulative emotional effect that is rare. It avoids sensationalism and refuses to get hysterically worked up over its hot, divisive topic of assisted death. The film takes its cue from Nigot, a remarkable woman who talks candidly and tactfully about her splendid life." The Age
"Provocative and confronting... which is done somewhat paradoxically in a gentle and sensitive way. The film will become a classic and a landmark in the humanitarian fight for individual human rights and self-determination." Leonardo Reviews
"Fascinating!" Screen Time
Awards & Conference Screenings
2006 American Sociological Association Film Festival
2006 National Women's Studies Association Film Festival
2004 Silver Sterling Award, Silverdocs Festival
2005 FIPA International Competition
2004 Sydney Film Festival
Live and Let Go: Faced with terminal cancer, 76-year-old Sam Niver chooses to die with dignity and on his own terms. This will be a moving and provocative trigger for discussions of assisted suicide.
Caring at the End of Life: Based on six case studies of seriously ill hospitalized patients, this moving film focuses on the key roles of nursing staff in improving patient-clinician communication in end-of-life care.
To Live Until I Die: Most Americans die in the hospital, often alone and in pain. These six terminally ill individuals are facing what lies ahead with anger, humor, insight, and honesty determined to have a "good death."
Exit: Profiles the EXIT organization, which for over twenty years has counseled and accompanied the terminally-ill and severely handicapped towards a death of their choice.
Facing Death: Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's seminal book "On Death and Dying," brought her international fame. This intimate portrait was filmed in 2002, when she lived secluded in the desert, awaiting - as she says - her own death.