May 30, 2024

Stunning video reveals mystical strain in Swiss assisted suicide

Here is a video which is essential viewing for anyone interested in how Swiss assisted suicide groups work.

Here is a video which is essential viewing for anyone interested in how Swiss assisted suicide groups work. Exit – Le Droit De Mourir (Exit: the right to die) is a prize-winning 2006 documentary. Unavailable until now, it was recently posted on YouTube.

The director, Fernand Melgar, spent two years filming the work of the Francophone group Exit. He shows an annual general meeting, secretaries answering phone queries, a conference of Exit societies in Japan, a board meeting and discussions with clients. Most astonishing of all, he films the last moments of a woman who chose to die on January 22.

The photography and editing are breath-taking. One impressive detail: from across the street he films undertakers manhandling a gurney with the woman’s body into their van. Cars pass in the drizzle. Suddenly there is a movement in a window of the block of flats, the reflection of a train behind the camera whizzing into the distance. It is an emblem of Micheline’s soul beginning her trip into the unknown…

But the focus of the documentary is on the accompagnateurs, the escorts. They ensure that the client is making a free choice to commit suicide. They patiently reassure them as they slowly make up their minds. They provide the lethal barbiturates and witness the deaths. It is depicted as heart-rending, exhausting work.

What strikes an English-speaking viewer as odd is the complete absence of controversy. Ethical discussions centre merely on justifying Exit’s reluctance to get involved in some cases. The escorts are over-stretched and weary; there are so many people who want to die and they cannot possibly help them all. 

But the escorts press on. Their work is, as their president, Dr Jérôme Sobel, reminds them, not a task, but a “vocation”. (He was recently re-elected president of Exit.) Indeed, their involvement is clearly a deep religious commitment. In an extraordinary sequence, Melgar films a board meeting.  In a soft golden glow, twelve escorts sit around a U-shaped table on both sides of Dr Sobel in a clear evocation of the Last Supper. “You are no longer volunteers, but priests,” Dr Sobel tells them.

The religious dimension is heightened in the quasi-liturgical language with which the saintly figure of Dr Sobel farewells Micheline. Over and over again he poses the question: do you do this freely? — to which she murmurs again and again Oui, Oui, Oui… “May the light guide you and lead you to peace,” he tells her. “Bon voyage, Micheline.” And she falls asleep.
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