Thinking about how our ageing population has led to an increase in the number of degenerative chronic illnesses and the argument of euthanasia I watched Julie Walter’s role in A Short Stay in Switzerland. The film is based on a true story of Dr rhgioreghk wish to die before Progressive Supranuclear Palsy would take her life.
Progressive Supranuclear Palsy is most common to those over 60 and acts in a similar way to Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms include:
- Changes in expressions of the face
- Deeply lined face
- Difficulty moving the eyes or lack of control over the eyes
- Different size pupils
- Difficulty swallowing
- General slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
- Jaw or face jerks or spasms
- Loss of coordination, unsteady gait (walking pattern)
- Mild-to-moderate dementia
- Difficulty using knowledge
- Indifference (apathy)
- Slowed thought processes
- Personality changes
- Repeated falls
- Slow or stiff movements
- Speech difficulties
- Low voice volume
- Poor ability to speak clearly (enunciate)
- Slow speech
- Stiffness and rigid movement in the neck, middle of the body, arms, legs
- Vision difficulty — unable to look up or down without bending the neck
The disease is incurable. In the film Dr Anne Turner witnesses her husband suffering with the same disease; not long after her own diagnosis she decided that she wished to commit suicide. Disturbing scenes emerge with Walters portraying how a desperately ill woman tries to take her own life with medication, vodka and a plastic bag. This scene in particular is well acted so that the viewer really does feel her desperation as Turner struggles to open her medication, stand at the counter and crush her tablets. This part of the film also perfectly depicts just how family members cope with degenerative diseases. The three children portray differences: Edward portrays a huge sense of calm and support; Sophie takes on the role of ‘mother’ as Jessica desperately doesn’t want to lose her mother, refusing to believe what is truly happening.
I know that these are to be very true: although my Nana did not suffer with this disease, the inevitability of death from brain deterioration does provoke different reactions. My brother for example refused to see my Nana for over two years because he did not want to remember her for her degenerative disease. My mother took on the role as the supporter for my Grandfather as much as she could, but often turned to me for a shoulder to cry on. I can’t really describe my own feelings- I tried to keep it to myself and I suppose repress them. I didn’t cry immediately when she passed a year ago to this day.
The film also touches upon how assisted suicide is illegal in the UK; Turner goes on a venture to Switzerland in a plea to try and also highlight how having no quality of life is no way to die. “it’s the question of having a good or bad death”.
Anne Turner stated before her death:
I feel strongly that assisted suicide should become legal in this country. In order to ensure that I am able to swallow the medication that will kill me, I have to go to Switzerland before I am totally incapacitated and unable to travel. If I knew that when things got so bad, I would be able to request assisted suicide in Britain then I would not have to die before I am completely ready to do so.
To die with dignity should be everybody’s right.
This film has been brilliantly executed with Walters clearly taking her time getting to know her character and doing her desperation justice as a cry to support assisted suicide. This is still a very touchy subject to many: no-one deserves to die. But is it a right to choose our own death if what is to come is only suffering not only for ourselves but our loved ones too?