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Kevin Eastwood's The Death Debate Premieres on TELUS Optik Local

Kevin Eastwood has had his fair share of close encounters with death.

The prolific storyteller produced a film about the lethal Huntington's disease (Do You Really Want to Know, 2012), witnessed several deaths during production of the Knowledge Network verité series Emergency Room: Life and Death at VGH (2014) and on the fiction side of things, his productions Fido (a 2006 zombie comedy) and Chris Haddock's CBC series The Romeo Section (2015) had a high body count.

Moreover, Eastwood had a cardiac arrest in 2013, which he survived with the help of his friend Sonja Bennett, writer and star of Preggoland (2014). As it happens, Bennett's grandmother Gillian Bennett, who suffered from dementia, made headlines in August of 2014 when she publicly announced her death by suicide.

Eastwood's latest production, The Death Debate, is a 43-minute documentary about the people at the forefront of the Carter v. Canada Supreme Court case, who successfully fought for the right to physician assisted-dying. The film chronicles the history of the issue, from 1993 when the issue was last heard at the Supreme Court, through to the historic unanimous ruling by the court in 2015.

Eastwood had always been fascinated by Joseph Arvay, a well-known civil rights lawyer from BC, and was keen on following Arvay and other lawyers and litigators from the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) as they brought the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"They're the organization that actually led the charge and they're BC-based. I felt that was an angle that hadn't been talked about enough," says Eastwood.

"There are lots of documentaries about the patients that are more experiential and I thought this is more like an inside-baseball kind of piece, hearing from the actual legal teams. Since that's what changes the laws."

The film starts in 1993, when Sue Rodriguez challenged the law, and picks up where things are at in 2011, when Arvay decides it’s time for the issue to be revisited. With the help of the BCCLA and plaintiff Gloria Taylor, a terminally ill 63-year-old woman who wants to end her own life with dignity, Arvay and his co-counsel Sheila Tucker and Alison Latimer file a lawsuit against the Government of Canada arguing that the current prohibition on assisted dying is unconstitutional.

The film tracks the ensuing four-year legal battle and features in-depth interviews with Arvay, Tucker and Latimer, as well as lead plaintiffs Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson; the Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of BC, Dr Will Johnston; and former BC Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith. The film looks at the ensuing arguments presented from both sides, focusing on the individuals at the forefront of the fight, and shows how a small group of people can be a powerful force for change.

(Kevin Eastwood interviews Joseph Arvay)

Production was made possible through a TELUS OptikTM Local grant and will accessible for free online and on TELUS Optik Local TV On Demand as of February 25th.

"TELUS Optik Local is proud to support local filmmakers to tell stories that matter to them and their communities," says Kim Hsu Guise, Director, TELUS Optik Local. "This project is an example of a local story that had impact far beyond our community and speaks to issues that are global.”

Eastwood is currently shooting a 2-part series finale of ER, which is expected to be aired next winter.

Watch The Death Debate here: 

By Katja De Bock

Photos courtesy of Kevin Eastwood

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