By Chris Haring

Through documentaries – and sometimes, even unexpected other media sources – the topics of death and medical aid in dying have become less taboo than ever.

No matter how times change, dying remains one of the most definitive, universal human experiences. Although we all do it, eventually, perhaps the most significant hurdle in the ongoing effort to raise awareness of – and support for – medical aid in dying in the Western world has been the general reluctance to talk about it.

A new aid-in-dying documentary helps drive the conversation with dignity and nuance

Therefore, the recent spotlight on physician-assisted death, brought to the forefront by the new docuseries “Take Me Out Feet First,” has been heartening. Directed by Serene Meshel-Dillman, this emotionally charged series explores the lives of several terminally ill individuals who chose to end their lives through medical aid in dying. 

The series joins a growing list of impactful documentaries that spark vital conversations about death. We are witnessing a cultural shift where topics that were once taboo are now openly discussed. This courageous and compassionate portrayal helps demystify and humanize expanded end-of-life options.

In a recent People magazine story by Vanessa Etienne, Meshel-Dillman shares the stories of her parents, Miriam and Robert, who both opted for Death with Dignity after being diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Her mother, a social worker familiar with the ravages of cancer, chose medical aid in dying to avoid prolonged suffering. Her father, initially resistant, eventually followed the same path after years of grieving and a cancer diagnosis of his own.

Several other documentaries accurately – and gracefully – address physician-assisted dying

The attention “Take Me Out Feet First” brings to this subject echoes the themes explored in several other notable documentaries. For example, “How to Die in Oregon” – its title a reference to the country’s first aid-in-dying state – offers a gentle yet powerful examination of terminally ill individuals considering assisted death, capturing the deeply personal nature of these decisions.

Similarly, “When My Time Comes,” featuring NPR’s Diane Rehm, provides an in-depth look at medical aid in dying across the United States. Rehm’s conversations balance diverse perspectives, presenting facts and dispelling myths while helping viewers understand end-of-life options’ legal and emotional landscapes.

Another documentary, “Jack Has a Plan,” offers an intimate portrayal of Jack Tuller’s story. Jack, a man living with a terminal brain tumor for 25 years, is followed over the final three at the end of his life, culminating in a heartfelt and permanent farewell.

Documentaries and other media like these are instrumental in breaking the silence around death and dying. They align with broader cultural movements, such as the nuanced discussions about mortality prompted by seemingly unrelated sources like 2023’s hit Barbie movie.

As we acknowledge the growing attention, we must continue to advocate for broader access to expanded end-of-life options. Medical aid in dying is currently available in eleven U.S. jurisdictions, but many more states are considering similar legislation. We hope that the awareness generated by “Take Me Out Feet First” and other documentaries will drive meaningful change, ensuring everyone has the right to die with dignity.

Discussing death and end-of-life options is the first step in breaking the stigma. Our Volunteer Toolkit offers many ways to connect with others through conversation and action.