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Oregon couple's final days captured in intimate aid-in-dying video

JoNel Aleccia, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

"We have not," Francie replied.

The video captured details of the final morning: Charlie saluting the camera farewell as he's wheeled down the hall, Safran's tearful last hug from her mother, Charlie and Francie clasping hands after they swallow the drugs.

"It just takes such a huge amount of internal strength and self-knowing to face that choice, to make that choice and then bring along all the people that love you and are going to miss you," Jensen said.

There was no funeral after the deaths. The Emericks had donated their bodies for research through a program at the Oregon Health & Science University and any remains wouldn't typically be returned for two or three years, a spokeswoman said.

In the interim, the video has become comforting and precious to the family, said Safran.

"It's very lovely, just to hear their voices," she said.

The documentary also serves a larger purpose: helping others to understand how aid-in-dying works, she said.

Carol Knowles, 70, was a member of Francie Emerick's book club. The Emericks didn't tell other residents about their plans. Knowles said she was surprised when they died the same day -- until she saw the documentary.

"I thought it was brave and beautiful," she said. "You could see the care with which Charlie and Francie had made that decision."

Another member of the group expressed concern, however, saying her religion prohibited any efforts to hasten death. Knowles said she plans to take the documentary to the retirement center's social worker before showing it more widely.

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"We want to do it in a way that will not scare them or make them feel uncomfortable," she said.

Stephen Drake, research analyst for the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, had serious reservations about making the video public. He worried that presenting aid-in-dying in a positive light "changes the expectations; this romanticizes the idea of not just suicide, but a double suicide," Drake said.

Safran said she expects strong reactions -- including criticism -- for chronicling her parents' final days. But she said the documentary honors the Emericks' belief that, if possible, everyone should have a say in when and how they die.

"We have a faith that says life is not to be worshipped," Francie said. "It's the quality of life that counts."

(Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

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