The Good Death tells the story of Janette Butlin, an older woman suffering from muscular dystrophy, and her decision to end her own life at a facility in Switzerland. The movie is a true, documentary film directed by Tomas Krupa, which really dives deep into the emotional weight that goes into such a serious decision. The film follows Janette in her final days as she tells the people in her life the decision she has made, and that she is going through with her euthanasia.
The film has several powerful and heartbreaking scenes, one of which is just watching Janette struggle to simply sit in a chair. It really is hard to watch. All you can think about is how you wish you could help her as she grabs and falls to do such a minute task. But the scene warrants another thought in the viewer; it also really makes you understand the everyday struggles Janette has with such basic actions. Janette explains that one of the biggest deciding factors in her choice was seeing what her mother went through with the same disorder, and how that is something she did not want to go through herself or put her children through. Knowing first hand what would happen to her contributed to making her decision. The Good Death makes you see a particular issue or discussion from another point of view. It makes you think and understand the struggle that goes into making such a powerful and permanent decision
We see that Janette’s son, Simon, suffers from the same muscular dystrophy as his mother. We see him throughout the film performing research and meeting with doctors, as he has dedicated his work to try to find a cure for the disorder. He wants to give people with the disorder more options rather than just suffer for the rest of their lives and the decision of euthanasia.
We do not really see much of Bridget, Janette’s daughter, outside of her scenes with her mother or Simon, but her part in the reality of the film is just as substantial. Krupa said that both of her children were not very happy that they were filming everything, but at the same time did nothing to cancel or stop it. It really was a brave choice to make and was much appreciated by the director and his crew.
Despite such a deep and heavy subject matter, Krupa tells me it was a rather fun time on set. Janette was such a joyful person and really took an interest in everyone who was working on set. She had “that famous English sense of humor” as Krupa put it, known to the rest of the world as “black humor”. It was not uncommon for Janette to make jokes about her condition and her planned death. Krupa says it was definitely helpful for himself and the crew, as well as Janette herself in discussing such a serious topic. Probably the only hint of this in the film, unfortunately, is in the beginning when Janette’s maid/helper leaves for the day and tells Janette to “enjoy yourself” and then after a short pause adding “while it lasts”. The two both genuinely laugh at the joke as she leaves the home.
Even though they were working on the film, every day was not just filled with work. Krupa and the crew talked a lot with Janette, and they actually started to become good friends throughout the process. He tells me Janette loved to talk about film, books, art, and music, but she was particularly interested in science and philosophy. Krupa says this is one of the things Janette spoke about most with Simon rather than any family matters.
One of the final most powerful stories in the film is that of Erika Preisig – the doctor performing the assisted death at her clinic. Doctor Preisig explains how her father had two strokes before trying to overdose on one occasion in order to kill himself and threatening to jump in front of a train in another. She was put in a position where her own father requested that she administer the assisted death for him. Being able to help put him out of his suffering was not easy for her at all, but it was something she knew her father wanted. This is why she started fighting for the right to assisted dying.
Doctor Preisig explains how she has to deal with the deaths of the people she assists just as much as anyone. She can only handle a maximum of two assisted deaths a week, otherwise, it is too much for her to handle. It is never easy taking someone’s life, even when it is something they want for themselves, and are the sole person behind the decision. Doctor Preisig knows she is ending a person’s suffering, but in the same motion causing the beginning of someone else’s.
Speaking with Tomas Krupa – the director – he told me his initial interest in this topic came from the idea of freedom. Freedom and equal opportunity is what he focused on in his last documentary film, and is something he thinks he will continue to explore in a matter of different regards. He says how it is nearly impossible to actually have true freedom and equal opportunities because where one person’s freedom starts, another person’s ends. In the case of this film and Janette’s decision, her freedom of choice to die is the start of someone else’s freedom of choice to advocate against euthanasia.
Krupa pointed out that the film is not meant to focus on the subject of “death”, and that it really does not interest him. He believes death is most interesting when it helps one to look at life from a different perspective. Krupa cares about the life that came before death. He explains how the entire concept of having a “good death” is based on what is considered to have had a good life.
Assisted death is a majorly debated topic all around the world in whether it should be seen as right or wrong. It is illegal in most countries, which is why Janette had to travel to Switzerland in order to have the operation. I admire Krupa’s choice in the subject matter in exploring such an important and powerful topic of freedom in our world.
One final thing Krupa brought up which I think is important to consider is that of “euthanasia” and the origins of the word. He informed me that the term “euthanasia” actually comes the Greek word meaning “good death” or “beautiful death”. Having seen his film, gotten to know Janette and her story, and watching her die at the end with my own eyes – I think this is the perfect word to use. Janette lived a wonderful, beautiful life and so she definitely had a good death.