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GUEST COLUMN: 'Last Flight Home' director becomes 'die with dignity' activist on deathbed father

Everyone who loved my dad understands why he ended his life. He has been paralyzed for years because his neck was manipulated during a massage And the stroke that caused him was only 20 years old. By 2023, he is 53 — frail, frail, battling advanced COPD and falling frequently. He’s tired of fighting. He will do anything for us, how can we deny his wish?

We found out that there is a law in California that allows our dad to take his own life with drugs after – a one day waiting period, so we brought him home from the hospital to die on his own terms.

Ondi Timoner David Livingston/Getty Images

Over the past years, I Using my camera as a diving bell, diving into worlds I could never enter and reemerging, bringing my discoveries from the depths to the surface. I try to make my films be visceral bridges of empathy that bring the viewer into the world of the subject. That mission has spawned 11 films and hundreds of short films—inspiring viewers to question what they thought was immutable and to take action in their lives. Up until now, I’ve counted on my films to do the job, and have never felt motivated to follow them with political action. …

I thought I knew how transformative movies are in changing the world, one audience at a time, but Last Flight Home , I was the one who was changed forever. I discovered that there is a huge number of underserved populations—pervasive, even—and one that needs our support: the terminally ill and their families. We don’t see them unless we’re in them because our society is disturbed by the reality of death.

I was 9 when my dad had a stroke and I have no memory of him in good health so I desperately needed to somehow seal him away from us forever before he left. When I started filming, I had no intention of sharing it with the public. These cameras are like a safety net for me. They helped me get through the loss of my favorite person and allowed me to be fully present as his daughter and caregiver because I didn’t have to worry about forgetting a wonderful, kind, witty thing he said. All this is recorded.

Two weeks after Dad died, I opened the video and found Dad was still alive, in the editing system! He is where he wants to be now, no longer suffering, so I can grieve for a grief that so few people are ever fortunate enough to experience. As I went from daughter to filmmaker, I found myself witnessing all of us step into the beautiful, sacred space around Dad and grapple with the big questions of life and death—and Dad, though he was dying, loved them, Make them laugh, inspire them with his fearlessness.

Even when I was editing, I was apprehensive about sharing the rawest and most vulnerable sides of my family, but what we went through in those weeks was so profound, it wouldn’t be right not to. I remember the moment I called my dad in the hospital to ask his permission to film and he replied, “I instinctively knew you were on the right track.” It was an interesting answer because I didn’t know where I was yet on the track.

I thought I was sharing a personal movie. I don’t think it’s a political document, but when people approach us tearfully, sharing stories of their loss, thanking us for the “gift” the film gave them for comfort and healing, planning their own farewells , even reuniting with estranged parents and shaking off longstanding stigma, I realized that, as feminist Carol Hanisch said, “the personal is political.” A raw, intimate observation of what has been described), I realized it might have the power to change the law.

Seeing so many viewers carrying pain, watching their loved ones struggle for years, begging for mercy, and unable to end their pain, I am determined to do whatever I can to help countless The fundamental human right to bodily autonomy has been granted to millions of terminally ill patients. These people are sick and fighting for their lives – they don’t have the energy to be active and fight for it. We need to fight for them.

Every family I’ve met who has received medical assistance at the end of life has described the peace and hope that was given to their loved ones, that they finally had a sense of agency with their bodies, And healed it to their families – because they knew the date and could come together and say goodbye.

This is the story of Last Flight Home , if my dad couldn’t exercise his human rights over his body, there couldn’t be any beauty. However, only 30 the regulations for medical assistance or “death with dignity” exist US states and Washington, D.C.

So my goal is to make strides in passing Medicaid statutes into law in the seven states where the campaign is currently running. We’ve partnered with Compassion & Choices, the nation’s largest end-of-life advocacy organization, and are advocating on a state-by-state tour, showing films, meeting experts and sharing our stories.

Next, we’ll head to Washington, D.C. as a family to screen this film and meet with members of the House and Senate to demand that the federal ban on funding medical assistance be repealed in states where death is currently a right, So that every citizen can have equal access to this right, regardless of their economic status.

It is time to pay the price so that families everywhere can choose to move through this difficult, final period of transition with grace and dignity.

My dad has suffered a lot that I will never be able to take away, but at least, thanks to the alchemy of cinema, his pain can help alleviate it for others. He promised he would take care of us, and I believe this movie is his last gift to me, to my family and now – to all of us.

This story first appeared in the June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive this magazine, click here to subscribe .



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