A new American documentary, Tomorrow Never Knows, tells the story of a transgender person with early onset Alzheimer's who decided to end his life through “voluntarily stopping eating and drinking” (VSED).
64-year-old Shar (Tim) Jones died on the 1st September 2016 in his home in Denver, Colorado, after consciously refusing nutrition and hydration. Jones had early onset Alzheimer’s, though he was not suffering from a terminal illness. He chose VSED because he couldn’t stand the thought of cognitive decline: “Alzheimer's destroys your being”, he says in the film’s trailer. “There will come a point where I won’t even know who I am”.
At the time of his death, assisted suicide was not legal in Colorado, and even today it is not available for people without a terminal illness.
The documentary focuses primarily on Shar’s final days as he lies dying in bed, surrounding by a veritable shrine of objects reflective of his alternative Buddhist spirituality. His partner Cynthia Vitale waits with him as his breathing becomes more laboured.
The film’s producers say the documentary is “an evocative, contemplative work directed at educating and humanizing what it means to be transgender and what it's like living with Alzheimer's Disease”.
Yet its content will be very confronting for some viewers. The film does not attempt to sanitise the painful final moments of Shar’s life, and it even includes a scene of Cynthia preparing Shar’s stiff, dead body for cremation. There are also broader questions about the limits of choice and the psychology of suicide. For many, Shar’s death would be no cause for celebration.
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