Three generations of women navigate a radical approach to dying.
At the sprightly age of 86, Laura Henkel decides to go on a river cruise in Europe with her granddaughter, Sam, and fulfill a childhood dream of visiting Vienna. However, after a harrowing fall followed by a life threatening case of pneumonia, she returns to Australia with a transformed view of her future. She tells her daughter Cathy that she wishes to end her life on her own terms. She wants to be in control of the process, to set the time and place, and be allowed to go with dignity.
Initially she plans on doing this in her home in Ballina, but after hearing about a clinic in Switzerland where her right to do this with her family by her side is legal, she shifts her focus. She begins the arduous process of applying to the clinic online and tells her daughter and granddaughter she’d like them to go with her and be with her in her final moments. She also asks them, both filmmakers, to make a film about it. She wants to make some noise about the right for elderly people to choose where and when they die.
Both Cathy and Sam are opposed to the plan at first, and reluctant to assist, but soon realise their only choices are to support her or walk away. They realise they have a finite number of days left with her, and plan activities and events to create lasting memories and meaningful ways to say goodbye.
Laura plans a farewell party a few days before her departure for Switzerland. She wants her death to be a ‘happy event’ and questions why we have to make this major part of life so sombre. She wants a joyful day, like a birth or a wedding. She asks that there be ‘love, good memories, but no tears’. The theme she chooses for the party is the Mad Hatters Tea Party.
As Cathy and Sam try to understand Laura’s choice, and uncover a range of conflicting views on the issue in the wider community, they also have to fulfill her wish of directing a film about it. Accompanying Laura on her journey to Switzerland and her last days and moments will test them as never before.
Laura’s Choice will expose and explore complex and often taboo questions as three generations of women travel into uncharted territory and navigate the legal, moral, ethical and emotional issues that arise from Laura’s wish to end her life, on her own terms.
“I feel I have had enough and am quite ready to go. I do not want to wait for some debilitating disease to carry me away – and going into an aged care facility to endure pain and suffering to the bitter end is not a future I choose for myself. My choice allows me to say farewell joyfully and then go to sleep in peaceful surroundings, with my family beside me at the end, while I am still able to say thank you for all they have done for me.”