Monday 29 May 2023

Plan 75: The Banality of Euthanasia

Kevin Yuill writes:

Plan 75 is a new sci-fi film, directed and co-written by Chie Hayakawa. It is set in an alternate version of present-day Japan, in which the authorities have come up with a solution to the ‘problem’ of an ageing population. This solution, called Plan 75, involves encouraging citizens over 75 years old to sign up for an assisted death in return for $1,000.

In one particularly striking scene, we see a medical clinic waiting room full of elderly people. A Plan 75 advert appears on a screen. ‘Being able to decide when to die has left me with peace of mind’, says a smiling senior on the screen. ‘People will say that she led a good life on her own terms.’ A patient in the waiting room, tired of the propaganda, gets up and turns the screen off.

Plan 75 plays it close to the bone. This fictional plan echoes the messages and sentiments of real advocates of assisted dying. For example, UK campaign group Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) talks blithely of ‘planning our own death’ and the ‘peace of mind’ that can bring.

The American assisted-suicide advocacy group, Compassion and Choices, wants to ‘empower everyone to chart their end-of-life journey’. It says it wants to ‘help you and your loved ones “finish strong” by planning for an end-of-life experience that matches the life you’ve enjoyed – defined by love, purpose and agency’. Reading such glossy schmaltz, it’s easy to forget that these groups are campaigning for people to be helped to poison themselves to death.

This is what makes Plan 75 so powerful. It holds an unflattering mirror up to today’s campaigns for euthanasia and assisted suicide. It exposes the gap between the activists’ hype and the sad, banal reality. It makes for a sombre, melancholy film, which treats its audience with respect. There are no lurid or melodramatic scenes. There aren’t any baddies. Even those who work for Plan 75 are reasonable, friendly and respectful to their clients.

Plan 75 encourages the viewer to question his or her assumptions about euthanasia. Its approach is subtle – too subtle for some reviewers, it seems. One critic thought the film was ‘quietly determined to stand up for the individual’s right to choose’, but wondered where the equivalent to Plan 75 was for those stricken by disease. Another complained that all the characters signing up to Plan 75 are portrayed as feeling ‘pressured by the sense of being a redundant burden to those around them’.

That, of course, is the point. Plan 75 captures well the pressures put on those opting for assisted suicide today. According to Oregon’s 2021 report on assisted suicide, 54.2 per cent of people who died by assisted suicide were afraid of being a ‘burden on family, friends / caregivers’ – compared with just 26.9 per cent who cited ‘inadequate pain control or concern about it’.

Plan 75 challenges the romanticised image of euthanasia promoted by its advocates. It depicts the banality of an assisted death. And in doing so, it gives the lie to advertising slogans about ‘finishing strong’ with an ‘end-of-life experience that matches the life you’ve enjoyed’.

Plan 75 also provides a damning portrait of modern ageism. When we dehumanise the elderly, and speak of them largely in terms of their costs to the state, it is not beyond the realms of imagination that assisted dying could be proposed as a solution to our economic troubles. It also shows how assisted-dying legislation is a slippery slope. So in Plan 75, assisted dying for the over 75s proves so ‘successful’ that a Plan 65 is mooted.

This is no flight of fancy. In places where assisted dying has been legalised, the categories of those eligible are always expanding. Euthanasia and assisted dying in the Netherlands have been legal since 2002. Now the ‘tired of life’ campaign is calling for all those over 75 to be allowed the right to die.

In Canada, where assisted dying has been legal since 2016, Dr Louis Roy recently told the House of Commons’ Special Joint Committee of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) that an assisted death can be appropriate for seniors ‘sliding into existential suffering or emptiness’.

This all shows that, from the perspective of the state, euthanasia can all too easily become a tool to solve social-care problems. Plan 75 deserves a wide audience. It exposes the sad reality of assisted dying that its advocates are only too keen to ignore.