To Live and Die in LA
Who would think that a documentary on assisted suicide, would be heartwarming,
fascinating and so real you could feel the emotions of family members surrounding the person who is suiciding. Watching “Last Flight Home (2022)” in a recent Washington, DC premier, my eyes were rivetted on the screen and a pin dropping in the auditorium could be heard. The subject of the film is Eli Timoner. He chooses death rather that a miserable existence. His wife and three loving children agreed with his decision and supported him.
California is one of twelve states where assisted suicide is legal. The California rules carry a heavy burden for the those who desire to suicide. Those wishing to do so must observe a set of rules and laws that demonstrate the act is of their own volition, including a final death bed contract which states they are killing themselves of their own free will. Additionally, there’s a 15-day waiting period once you declare your intension, and a requirement that drugs must self- administered. Those drugs are a cocktail composed of three potions referred to as “M-D-A”. The first drug is an anti-nausea drug to keep the subject from vomiting during the administration of the other two drugs. The second is a compound that slows their heart down to allow the arsenic to stop the subject’s heart. Soon the body becomes lifeless and, in this case, an unmarked van picked up the body.
The documentarian was Ohni Timoner, Eli’s daughter. She has won two Sundance Festival awards. Her skills provide the stunning effects of the film. The family consists of Eli’s wife, Ellisa, Ohni’s brother David and the youngest child Rabbi Timoner. “Team T” are the closest of families. They have an ability to struggle with life’s difficulties and come out better than before.
Mr. T was the founder and sole owner of Air Florida, a pioneering discount airline that rose to prominence soon after air fares were deregulated. The airline was well established when on a snowy day in December 1979, one of their planes crashed into the 14th Street Bridge which crosses the Potomac River at Washington, DC. Mr. T lost everything when subsequently Air Florida went bankrupt. Still the family stayed strong. They took their losses in stride and hung together. Air Florida went down but they turned the tragedy into a triumph.
They behaved in same manner when Mr. T was ready to die. They carefully planned his end missing no details. All of this was captured live on film. The audience was shown the day-by-day demise. Everything was on the record.
The family members were a team but each came to terms with the event in different ways. Brother David was methodical and measured. He showed no emotion. The wife was too heartbroken to appear on camera. Only once was she shot hanging weepily onto her dying husband. The Rabbi appeared in her calling. She witnessed the proceedings through the eyes of a religious leader, but not a daughter. Others participating in the suicide were grandchildren, the attendant that has served Mr. T, and the hospice nurse who kept the legal and health proceedings going forward.
Bioethical issues entered into film. It felt that the entire human drama was scripted. This made for good watching, but was it morally justified? Team T did not seem to notice that Ohni was making a movie, or they just accepted the recording of the event. Similar to their youngest daughter presiding as a Rabbi, Ohni was a filmmaker and both contributed to the formality of the assisted suicide. David was the rock. He provided comfort through his steadfastness.
The final day when Mr. T killed himself was chilling. All were surrounding him, even taking a family photo with him before he sipped poison from a straw. There was hardly an epilogue. Only a stream of old family photos of happy occasions: weddings, a bar mitzvah celebration and a picnic. The credits were ran over these scenes of happy occasions which allowed the audience to come to peace with the death. They saw a life end and fly away home into the heavens.