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Mademoiselle and the Doctor

Mademoiselle and the Doctor

Mademoiselle Lisette Nigot appears to be a highly unconventional candidate for euthanasia. At 79, she is in good health, feels no pain, and does not seem depressed. But in MADEMOISELLE AND THE DOCTOR, expressing her fears of encroaching old age and physical decline, she simply declares that she sees no reason to continue living.

The current international debate about the right to die - involving legal restrictions, religious objections, and medical ethics - is comprehensively examined in this thought-provoking, illuminating documentary. The eponymous protagonists of MADEMOISELLE AND THE DOCTOR are Nigot, a retired French-born professor, and Dr. Philip Nitschke, a proponent of euthanasia who counsels those who want control over their own deaths.

Dr. Nitschke is alternately condemned by some as 'Doctor Death' and hailed by others as a 'medical hero.' Before a Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was overturned by the Australian Parliament in 1997, Nitschke was the first doctor in the world to legally administer voluntary euthanasia. Through his organization, Exit International, Nitschke leads workshops that provide medical and legal advice on how to achieve death with dignity. As a committed author and lecturer, he emphasizes the tragic schism on this issue between justice and the law.

MADEMOISELLE AND THE DOCTOR shows Nitschke at work, counseling elderly participants in his workshops, demonstrating several 'do it yourself' suicide machines (including a 'death computer' and a carbon monoxide generator), speaking at a Hemlock Society conference in California (where a bodyguard protects him from religious protestors), experiencing a police raid on his home, and debating with Connie Chung on CNN. We see case studies of several of his terminally ill patients, including a heart-rending video diary of a stomach-cancer patient whose right to a peaceful death is prohibited by law.

It is Lisette Nigot, however, who clearly represents the ultimate test case for a legalized policy of voluntary euthanasia. Throughout an extended discussion, this intelligent, rational woman offers articulate and often witty replies to the filmmaker's objections that she has no reason to die.

Before MADEMOISELLE AND THE DOCTOR reaches its dramatic conclusion, it has made a persuasive argument as to why the right to die should be guaranteed by law. As one Exit workshop participant says, complaining about the present lack of freedom of choice in matters of life and death, a society that aims to support quality of life should also be concerned with the quality of dying.