PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Television

Frontline: The Suicide Tourist

In The Suicide Tourist, Mary Ewert stands quietly by her terminally ill husband's side, her face barely suggesting how difficult the options are for her.

Frontline: The Suicide Tourist

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Craig Ewert
Network: PBS
Director: John Zaritzky
Air date: 2010-03-02
Website
Trailer
Amazon

"Are you getting tired of cucumber?" "I'm getting tired of vegetables."

Mary Ewert is helping her husband Craig to eat. A former professor of computer science now afflicted with ALS (Lou Gherig's disease), he's increasingly unable to do things for himself. It's frustrating, of course, and he depends on Mary. She tends to his every need, physical and emotional. "I probably appear to be rather unmoved, perhaps, people would say," she says. "I don't know. But I think the thing is, remember, we've been dealing with this for months and months. So that, probably, my worst times were when they were just kind of coming up with the diagnosis. I think having to do the daily care sort of makes to have to be..."

"Stronger?" Craig finishes. Mary goes on, "Yeah. And just, you know, it's daily life. You have to get on. You either do that or you fall apart. And what good does the latter do?"

The Ewerts are here the subjects of The Suicide Tourist, a documentary by John Zaritzky, originally made in 2007 and currently airing on TV and online as part of PBS' Frontline series. This means the original film has been cut to fit an hour-or-so format, and includes narration by Will Lyman. He explains over a series of old photos that this "outgoing Irish Catholic girl from a conservative family" and "introverted agnostic" have shared a 37-year marriage, and now face an unexpected end. Hoping to regain some control over the process of Craig's death, they come to Dignitas, "one of a handful of Swiss groups devoted to helping people end their lives legally."

Accompanied by Zaritzky's camera crew, the Chicago-based Ewerts arrive in Zurich, where they spend a few days signing papers and enjoying sunny days in the local park. In their hotel room, Craig contemplates his options, both ending in his death. "I can either actually go through with it or I say I'm too scared, I can't do it," he submits. "If I don’t go through with it, my choice is to suffer and inflict suffering on my family and then die, quite possibly in a way that is more painful and more stressful than this way." Mary stands quietly by his side, her face barely suggesting how difficult these options are for her.

It's to be expected, that the program focuses on Craig's situation (the other part of the original film, available on the PBS site, follows a couple from Vancouver as they seek another alternative, as Betty Columbias, fully healthy, wants to die alongside her terminally ill husband George). The Frontline version presents the Americans during Craig's final days ("In a way," he says, "it's kind of like the first day of school, you don’t really know what's coming up"), as well as explications by Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli (since 1998, the organization has helped more than 1,000 people die, all from outside Switzerland, a point that makes Dignitas unique). Though opponents argue that Dignitas invites a kind of "suicide tourism," by which people with means circumvent laws where they live, seeking legal sanction in Switzerland (assisted suicide is legal in some other countries, as well as Oregon and Washington state).

While assisted suicide raises profound questions concerning both risks and benefits, the potential for abuses versus respect for individual rights, needs, and desires, The Suicide Tourist doesn’t engage in these debates. Instead, it observes the Ewerts as they go through this complicated journey. “I’m not tired of living,” Craig sighs. “I’m tired of the disease, but I’m not tired of living. And I still enjoy it enough that I’d like to continue. But the thing is, that I really can’t.” He and Mary understand that he must be the one, legally, to commit the act: he must drink the liquid that will end his life, and agree to be taped so that Swiss authorities can assure themselves that the assistant from Dignitas only assists. The film understandably attends to Craig's experience, his good humor, sensitivity, and resolve: his final moments are rendered in a series of close-ups and dissolves, under the Beethoven movement he has asked to hear.

Certainly, this scene is affecting. But then the program cuts to Mary, after. Alone in their hotel room, she begins to describe her feelings. "We still had time to talk," she smiles, "And we talked a lot." She folds up her husband's wheelchair in order to pack it into the car that will take her to the airport. The sense of her loneliness is overwhelming. As is her strength.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.