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Laura's Choice (ATOM Study Guide)

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Laura Henkel is an eccentric, outspoken, and feisty Australian woman. At the sprightly age of eighty-six, she decides she wants to go on a river cruise in Europe with her granddaughter Sam to fulfil a childhood dream of visiting Vienna. During the trip she suffers a harrowing fall followed by a life-threatening case of pneumonia, forcing her to return to Australia.

These events transform her view of her future. She tells her daughter Cathy that she wishes to end her life, on her own terms. She does not have a terminal illness; she wants to be in control of the process, to set the time and place, and to be allowed to go with dignity. She asks her daughter Cathy and granddaughter Sam, both filmmakers, to make a film about it.

As Cathy and Sam struggle to come to terms with her choice they discover conflicting views in the Australian community. They discover that Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) is contentious in Australia, and that Laura does not have a legal right to end her own life. Given these constraints, Laura applies to a clinic in Switzerland where her right to end her own life, with her family by her side, is legal.

Laura also questions why dying needs to be sombre and sad, and so plans a joyous farewell party. Laura's Choice explores the complex questions that arise as three generations of women navigate a radical, dignified and controversial approach to dying.

Curriculum Links:

Teachers are advised to watch both parts of this two-hour documentary before deciding how to use it with their secondary students. The film explores death and dying through both an ethical-legal lens and an emotional-experiential lens.

The first episode and the first ten minutes of the second episode focus on the legal and ethical arguments for assisted dying. Laura's choice is explored through conversations between Laura, Cathy, Sam and a number of experts and advocates.

The remainder of the second episode explores the emotional and experiential impacts of undergoing assisted dying as Laura, Cathy and Sam prepare for Laura's death. The episode concludes with Laura's peaceful death, with her family by her bedside.

Subject Areas:

  • Philosophy – Should adults have a legal right to end their life at a time and in a way of their own choosing?
  • Psychology – How is an individual's sense of their worth changed by the ageing process? What are some of the factors involved in individuals choosing to end their life?
  • Ethics – What is intrinsically right and wrong (or neither of these two things) about euthanasia as part of the life and death of living creatures, including humans?
  • Legal Studies – Should how people choose to end their life and Voluntary Assisted Dying be legislated with specific laws? In Victoria there are sixty-eight criteria to be met before Voluntary Assisted Dying can happen. One of these is that the applicant must be a resident of Victoria


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