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Q&A: An Inside Look at “My Life – My Choice: Dying with Dignity”

My Life - My Choice: Dying with Dignity

In February 2015, Kathy Wardle reached out to VisionTV producer John Moutsatsos-Thornton with the hope that he would be interested in purchasing her downtown Toronto home. As far as Thornton figured, his good friend Wardle was simply looking to downsize her living situation due to mobility issues. Little did Thornton know that this meeting would eventually become about something way more serious than a real estate transaction.

Within moments of Thornton arriving at Wardle’s home, she placed her hands on his shoulder and informed him that – after years of chronic, debilitating physical pain – she was going to Switzerland to end her life. The next day, Thornton presented the idea of traveling with his friend on her final journey with a camera to document it. Wardle agreed to it.

During a recent interview with Libby Znaimer for ZoomerRadio’s Zoomer Week in Review, Thornton discussed how he handled Wardle’s revelation, why the “My Life – My Choice: Dying with Dignity” documentary idea was encouraged by Wardle and what his final moments with her were like.

“My Life – My Choice” premieres Monday, March 14 at 10pm ET/7pm PT on VisionTV. It will be preceded at 9pm ET/6pm PT by a special edition of theZoomer, where the round table will explore the changing landscape of assisted dying in Canada.

Kathy_MyLife_600_5   Kathy_MyLife_600_7

ZoomerRadio: How did you react to Kathy’s decision?

John: “Well, I went over there with my partner and we were excited at the prospects of potentially buying her house, then she dropped this bombshell on us and she matter-of-factly said, ‘Well, let’s go through and I’ll show you the house.’ It was a very weird day.”

ZR: Did it upset you?

John: “I think we were both in shock. I was in shock and Kathy was in shock. Kathy’s intention was not to tell me. She wasn’t telling many people what she was doing, because of the laws in Canada – in terms of aiding and abetting. She didn’t plan to tell me, but when she saw me I guess the moment struck her and she told me. But, it didn’t really register until that night when [my partner and I] went home.”

ZR: How long have you known Kathy and what did you know about her illness before being told about [her intentions]?

John: “I knew Kathy for 25 years. She was a real estate agent of mine and we remained friends. About 10-15 years ago, I knew she was having a lot of pain issues in her lower back, hip and her knees. She had knee replacement and hip replacement [surgeries] and then her spine started to deteriorate. So, I knew she was in a lot of pain.”

ZR: Did you try to talk her out of [assisted suicide]? What did you do after being told about her plans?

John: “I didn’t try to talk her out of it. I didn’t feel as though it was my place to talk her out of it – it was her choice. She explained what she’d been going through and she explained that she reached out to this organization, Dignitas. She just explained how she reached the decision she had reached.”

Kathy_MyLife_600_10

ZR: How old was she?

John: “She was 73 when she died.”

ZR: How long had she been suffering from this terrible pain?

John: “I would say 10 years.”

ZR: How did the documentary come about?

John: “I came back to her the day after she told me and asked her how she would feel if I followed her, just me, with a video recorder and documented her last amount of time – she agreed to do that. The big reason why she did that is because she wanted to push things along so that people would vote for a government that would allow assisted dying.”

ZR: Tell me about the trip to Switzerland with Kathy. You were there with her sister [Lesley] and her good friend [Ted.] Sometimes, it just felt like it was a party.

John: “There were a lot of strange feelings that we were all going through, but it did feel like a party. One of the things Kathy had said to us before we went over was ‘the last thing I want is for you guys to be sad. I understand that you’re going to be sad, but this is the last of the time I have on this earth – I want it to be as joyful as possible. I want us to have a good time.’ We did, as much as we could, given her mobility issues.”

ZR: When I watched the film and saw you all having a good time, I wondered if she was going to go through with it. Did you ever wonder?

John: “Knowing Kathy the way I knew Kathy, when she makes up her mind, she makes up her mind. But, there was always a little bit of – I wouldn’t use the word ‘hope’ – but, there was something in the back of my mind that thought she could have the potion in her hand and say, ‘I don’t want to do this.’”

Kathy_MyLife_600_6   Kathy_MyLife_600_8

ZR: When Kathy went in to do it, did you go with her? Were you in the room when she died?

John: “Yes. We weren’t permitted to videotape her actual death, but I videotaped the journey up to the house – which was in an industrial area – that Dignitas. Then, the camera stopped rolling. But, then I was an eyewitness to the procedure.”

ZR: What was that like?

John: “The Dignitis people said several times to Kathy ‘We’re here for you, this happens at your speed, or it doesn’t have to happen.’ They came back four or five times and reassured her that she didn’t have to be in a rush to do this and that if she changed her mind at any point, it was absolutely fine. Kathy had looked over to me and said ‘Let’s go for a walk.’ So we went for a walk and as we were walking from the group, she said ‘Hold my hand the way you would hold Billy’s hand,’ which is the name of my partner. She just wanted to feel close and to feel loved and we strolled a little bit. Then, we hugged each other, said we loved each other, and then she was in her mode to get it done. She looked at me and said, ‘Get my sister, get Ted, let’s do this.’”

“My Life – My Choice” premieres Monday, March 14 at 10pm ET/7pm PT on VisionTV. It will be preceded at 9pm ET/6pm PT by a special edition of theZoomer, where the panel will discuss assisted dying.

“Going on an Unexpected Journey”

went home.”

ZR: How long have you known Kathy and what did you know about her illness before being told about [her intentions]?

John: “I knew Kathy for 25 years. She was a real estate agent of mine and we remained friends. About 10-15 years ago, I knew she was having a lot of pain issues in her lower back, hip and her knees. She had knee replacement and hip replacement [surgeries] and then her spine started to deteriorate. So, I knew she was in a lot of pain.”

ZR: Did you try to talk her out of [assisted suicide]? What did you do after being told about her plans?

John: “I didn’t try to talk her out of it. I didn’t feel as though it was my place to talk her out of it – it was her choice. She explained what she’d been going through and she explained that she reached out to this organization, Dignitas. She just explained how she reached the decision she had reached.”

Kathy_MyLife_600_10

ZR: How old was she?

John: “She was 73 when she died.”

ZR: How long had she been suffering from this terrible pain?

John: “I would say 10 years.”

ZR: How did the documentary come about?

John: “I came back to her the day after she told me and asked her how she would feel if I followed her, just me, with a video recorder and documented her last amount of time – she agreed to do that. The big reason why she did that is because she wanted to push things along so that people would vote for a government that would allow assisted dying.”

ZR: Tell me about the trip to Switzerland with Kathy. You were there with her sister [Lesley] and her good friend [Ted.] Sometimes, it just felt like it was a party.

John: “There were a lot of strange feelings that we were all going through, but it did feel like a party. One of the things Kathy had said to us before we went over was ‘the last thing I want is for you guys to be sad. I understand that you’re going to be sad, but this is the last of the time I have on this earth – I want it to be as joyful as possible. I want us to have a good time.’ We did, as much as we could, given her mobility issues.”

ZR: When I watched the film and saw you all having a good time, I wondered if she was going to go through with it. Did you ever wonder?

John: “Knowing Kathy the way I knew Kathy, when she makes up her mind, she makes up her mind. But, there was always a little bit of – I wouldn’t use the word ‘hope’ – but, there was something in the back of my mind that thought she could have the potion in her hand and say, ‘I don’t want to do this.’”

Kathy_MyLife_600_6   Kathy_MyLife_600_8

ZR: When Kathy went in to do it, did you go with her? Were you in the room when she died?

John: “Yes. We weren’t permitted to videotape her actual death, but I videotaped the journey up to the house – which was in an industrial area – that Dignitas. Then, the camera stopped rolling. But, then I was an eyewitness to the procedure.”

ZR: What was that like?

John: “The Dignitis people said several times to Kathy ‘We’re here for you, this happens at your speed, or it doesn’t have to happen.’ They came back four or five times and reassured her that she didn’t have to be in a rush to do this and that if she changed her mind at any point, it was absolutely fine. Kathy had looked over to me and said ‘Let’s go for a walk.’ So we went for a walk and as we were walking from the group, she said ‘Hold my hand the way you would hold Billy’s hand,’ which is the name of my partner. She just wanted to feel close and to feel loved and we strolled a little bit. Then, we hugged each other, said we loved each other, and then she was in her mode to get it done. She looked at me and said, ‘Get my sister, get Ted, let’s do this.’”

“My Life – My Choice” premieres Monday, March 14 at 10pm ET/7pm PT on VisionTV. It will be preceded at 9pm ET/6pm PT by a special edition of theZoomer, where the panel will discuss assisted dying.

“Going on an Unexpected Journey”

“Kathy Speaks About Suicidal Thoughts”

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