Let’s talk about death: a review of ‘Last cab to Darwin’, Australia 2015
5*, Directed by Jeremy Sims based on stage play by Reg Cribb
Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) December 2015, possible release in UK cinemas 2016/17
The controversial subject of ‘euthanasia and assisted suicide’ has been a rich source for films; ‘Whose life is it anyway? USA, 1981, directed by John Badham’, ‘The sea inside, Spain, 2004, directed by Alejandro Amenabar’, and ‘Million Dollar baby, USA 2004, directed by Clint Eastwood’ have all explored the ethical, legal and moral complexities of ‘the right to die’ from a patient’s perspective.
A new Australian film ‘Last cab to Darwin’ follows Rex (Michael Caton) – a cab driver in his late 60’s after being diagnosed with disseminated stomach cancer. Rex will consider no treatment under any circumstances, for him ‘Hospital is not an option’. He wants to end his life by travelling to Darwin, Northern Territory Australia, to reach Dr Farmer (Jacki Weaver) who has publicly announced that she will offer practical support to terminally ill patients who voluntarily choose to die. A law has just been passed in Darwin that allows doctors to practise physician-assisted suicide, and she is looking for her first ‘volunteer’. The trip from Broken Hill, New South Wales, where Rex lives to Darwin where Dr Farmer’s clinic is, takes Rex on a road journey where he meets a mix of eccentric characters. His interactions with Julie (a free-spirited nurse), Tilly (a mechanic with a passion for football), and long-distance phone conversations with his neighbour and close friend Polly, all make him reconsider his fixed view on wanting to die. In the metaphorical ‘cab journey’ symbolising the journey between ‘life and death’, Rex is constantly reminded that in spite of the isolating nature of terminal illness, his decision to die cannot be made without affecting the lives of those around him.
The film uses a fictional story to revisit a short spell in Australia’s history when ‘Euthanasia’ was legalised by the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995. That law was made void by the Euthanasia Law Act 1997. When the 1995 law was in operation, three people died with the assistance of Dr Philip Nitschke, an international advocate for Euthanasia.
The film makers question Dr Farmer’s motivations and unwavering determination to assist Rex in dying; we see Nurse Julie challenging Dr Farmer to know more about Rex’s life, and his family and friends’ opinion on his decision. It appears that Dr Farmer is on a mission to enforce the new law using Rex as a guinea-pig.
International legislations differ in their stance towards Euthanasia. In the UK, Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal following the ‘Suicide Act 1961 which makes it a criminal offence to aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another or an attempt of another to commit suicide’. In September 2015, the House of Commons rejected with a vote of 3:1 the change in the law proposed by Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill allowing physician-assisted suicide in terminally ill, mentally competent patients with less than six months to live. The debate around Euthanasia still remains a cause for controversy with eminent organizations supporting the choice-to-die such as the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide (SOARS) and Exit (Right-to-Die Organisation). However assisted suicide is legal in Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the United States of Washington and Oregon, a situation that brought about the rise of what is referred to as ‘Suicide or Euthanasia tourism’. In 2015 several hundred British citizens flew to Switzerland to die in one of ‘Dignitas’ rented apartments in Zurich (1).
There are spiritual/ religious dimensions in Euthanasia for practising doctors too; while Christianity and Islam encourage doctors to offer all measures to make the dying process as peaceful and as pain-free as possible, they do not support Euthanasia. Both religions condemn Euthanasia as ‘a crime against life, and a crime against God’. Personally as a practising Muslim doctor, I was moved by Rex’s quest to die, but still wished him to listen to his friends and carers’ arguments willing him to reconsider his decision. In one of the most moving scenes in the film, I found myself shouting out to Rex ‘Don’t do it’ when he attempted to crash his car and die. Rex poignantly describes it: ‘Killing yourself is f…… hard’.
Published literature argues the impact of doctors’ and nurses’ religious beliefs in shaping their attitudes towards Euthanasia and suggests that even amongst those healthcare professionals with strong religious convictions, a group of them have considered or taken active measures to bring about the death of terminally ill patients (2, 3, 4).
Through its intelligent and insightful portrayal of Rex’s story, ‘Last cab to Darwin’ invites the audience to openly ‘talk about death’. However it is emphatic in asking the viewers to take sides; it can only be ‘black or white’, ‘pro-death, or pro-life’.
Address for correspondence: Dr Khalid Ali, Screening Room editor Khalid.firstname.lastname@example.org
- ‘One person a fortnight travels to Dignitas from Britain to end their lives’. Guardian August 15, 2015. Accessed March 27, 2016 http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/aug/15/assisted-dying-britons-dignitas-rises-campaigners-change-law
- Gielen J, van den Branden S, Broeckaert B. Religion and Nurses’ Attitudes to Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide. Nurs Ethics 2009; 16 (3): 303-18.
- Caddell D, Newton R. Euthanasia: American attitudes toward the physician’s role. Soc Sci Med 1995; 40(12):1671-81.
- Baume P, O’Malley E, Bauman A. Professed religious affiliation and the practice of euthanasia. J Med Ethics 1995; 21(1): 49–54.