‘Dallas Buyers Club’ Intimately Explores End Of Life

‘Dallas Buyers Club’ Intimately Explores End Of Life

Posted on Monday, November 18th, 2013 at 10:51 am by lifemediamatters


Dallas Buyers Club intimately explores the fears and stigmas faced by gay and straight men diagnosed with H.I.V. in 1980s Texas, a period and place where myths and judgements surrounded the disease and few proven treatment options were available. The film, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, is based off the true-life story of Ron Woodroof (played by Matthew McConaughey), the subject of a lengthy 1992 feature published by The Dallas Morning News. 

The film begins with Woodroof, a homophobic and misogynistic womanizer and part-time drug-dealer, learning of his HIV-positive diagnosis after waking up in a Dallas hospital bed from an alcohol and drug-induced faint. He is dying, his doctors bluntly tell him, and he has less than 30 days to live. He begins his journey with H.I.V. alone– his closest “friends” abandon him, partly due to fear of catching the disease and partly due to what they believe must be his latent homosexual tendencies that led to him becoming infected.

Woodroof is committed to living as long as possible, and he manages to illegally obtain AZT, a drug still in clinical trials and so devastating to the immune system it nearly kills him. After explaining his reluctance to continue with AZT to his doctors, the compassionate Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), who is also skeptical of the approved treatments for H.I.V., becomes an ally when she learns of his business of smuggling into Texas combinations of drugs and supplements helping infected patients stabilize their T-cell counts. The Dallas Buyers Club begins treating thousands of its “members” with aloe, proteins and vitamins, among other drugs not approved by the FDA but available in Mexico, Japan and Israel.

One of the best performances in the film belongs to Jared Leto; he plays the part of Rayon, a transgender woman suffering from AIDS who partners with Woodroof to bring smuggled drugs to local gay men. Rayon is estranged from her parents, and she dies while receiving a morphine drip in the ER with no family present.

Louis Weisberg, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Gazette, a progressive newsmagazine that caters to the LGBT community of Wisconsin, sponsored a preview of the film to about one hundred viewers in Milwaukee. “I thought it was a really brilliant film. I lived during that era, and the film was accurate,” he told Life Matters Media. “It was a time of great panic and desperation. McConaughey and Vallée did an excellent job of presenting the zeitgeist.”

Weisberg said he believes many men diagnosed with H.I.V. still view it as a death sentence, even though treatments now allow them to live longer than ever before, with a better quality of life. “People don’t have these types of conversations. They don’t want to talk about death,” he said. “And they still get a heart attack when testing positive.” But Weisberg points to the increasing number of individuals from the LGBT community in film as evidence of a shifting culture more open to discussions about the end of life and the lives of gays and lesbians. “We are seeing a sea change. This film shows the first time a patient went head-to-head with the medical establishment and won,” he said.

The film is currently in wide-release across the U.S. Get tickets here.

A Student Of Death

Posted on Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 at 3:20 pm by Life Matters Media

“I want to celebrate my belief that living well and dying well are one and the same thing. I’m not talking about adjusting deathbed pillows so that the dying people can strike heroic poses for the edification of onlookers.  I’m talking about achieving a good death in the context of real dying – with all its unpredictability, disfigurement, pain, and sorrow.”

My name is Richard.  I’m the founder of PARADIGM/Enhancing Life Near Death, a nonprofit organization with an outreach to terminally ill, seriously ill, elder, and dying people.  I’m also the author of the newly published — The Amateur’s Guide To Death And Dying.  I’ve been invited to share some thoughts with you about my personal journey.

Although I’ve been working in this field for 30 years, I should probably say from the onset that this is not something I chose to do.  It was more like this work chose me.  Let me explain.

I finished my doctorate in San Francisco in 1981.  That same year a mysterious thing began to happen.  Gay men all across the country began to sicken and die from an unknown disease.  Was this a diabolic plot of some kind?  Perhaps it was divine retribution.  Or was this simply a very serious medical emergency?  The AIDS crisis had begun in earnest.

Because of my background in religion and psychology, friends turned to me for guidance, but I’m afraid that I had nothing to offer them.  Nothing, in all my years of schooling, had prepared me for what was happening to the people I loved.  I was petrified.  All my greatest fears were being realized.  What did it all mean?  It was a desperate time and I was powerless.  I could do nothing but sit and watch the nightmare unfold.

As it turned out, sitting and watching was the best thing I could have done, because as fate would have it, this time I was to be the student, not the teacher.  In time, I became less anxious.  The monstrous thing I feared for so long was being transformed.  I was able to sit with death and not be afraid.  Death was no longer the enemy, she had become what St. Francis called her, ‘sister death.’

Years of going from one death scene to another with hardly a break in between was exhausting but also rewarding.  I began to see patterns develop.  Despite the uniqueness of each death, I noticed there were two things all these deaths had in common.  They were difficult and lonely affairs.

Difficult because in this culture we have a hard time recognizing when things are over, especially the things we enjoy – summer vacation, relationships, our youth and even life itself.  This is a problem because being unable to acknowledge the end of something makes saying goodbye and thank you impossible.

And they were also lonely affairs, because the wisdom people come as they approached the end of their life often died with them.  There simply wasn’t a medium for collecting this abundant wisdom and thus it was frequently lost.

Most people face their mortality in a vacuum of information and support.  It is as if each of will have to learn to die from scratch, as if no one had died before us.

I figured there had to be a better way to deal with this fundamental fact of life.  That’s why I’m here.  I want to take a fresh look at my mortality, and do so in an interactive and positive way.  I want to celebrate my belief that living well and dying well are one and the same thing.  I’m not talking about adjusting deathbed pillows so that the dying people can strike heroic poses for the edification of onlookers.  I’m talking about achieving a good death in the context of real dying – with all its unpredictability, disfigurement, pain, and sorrow.

I look forward to other opportunities to address the topic of death and dying in the weeks to come.  Thank you for this opportunity to join you.

Illinois Lawmaker Pushes Medical Marijuana

Posted on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 at 8:55 pm by Life Matters Media

Illinois lawmaker pushes for medical marijuana bill

An Illinois sponsor of a medical marijuana measure says he may have enough votes to pass the bill in the Statehouse, the Chicago Tribune reportsRep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, says his “nose count” has him near the 60 votes needed for approval of a three-year trial medical marijuana program called the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, which would be a first for Ill.

“If members vote their consciences, I’ll have the votes,” said Lang, who fell short a handful of votes last year, although the Senate approved similar previous legislation in 2010.

This season may be different, however, because three dozen lawmakers in the House and Senate are not coming back in the next General Assembly, making them lame ducks, Ray Long reports. “Their votes are more likely to be up for grabs given that they are not expected to face the voters again.”

CBS News reports that advocates of medical marijuana are in Springfield to lobby state lawmakers to approve the use of medical marijuana with strict limitations. The drug would only be prescribed by doctors, in small amounts, to qualifying terminally ill patients or their designated caregivers. Individuals suffering from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis or a “debilitating medical condition” may qualify.

A qualifying patient or caregiver would only be able to legally possess 6 cannabis plants and 2 ounces of dried usable cannabis during a two-week period.

State Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Countryside, opposes the measure because he fears it will make the drug more available. “Just in the last two weeks in DeKalb, there was a 10-pound traffic stop of medical marijuana that came from Oregon,” Durkin said.

The AP reports that Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Freeport, acknowledges that Lang may have enough votes to pass the measure, but the former FBI agent still plans to fight it. “I just see it as a tremendous mistake,” said Sacia.

Lang may bring the measure to vote this week at the General Assembly. He told the AP that there are “a whole bunch of people who are wavering.” He will work over the weekend before putting the measure to vote, although he may be close to the 60 votes needed.

Medical marijuana supporters have already won local approval for medical use in 18 states and D.C. Voters in Colorado and Washington chose to legalize marijuana, although, the federal government currently lists marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has no medically accepted use and high potential for abuse.

Beyond ‘The Sessions’ Intimacy At End Of Life

Posted on Friday, November 16th, 2012 at 11:00 pm by Life Matters Media

Dr. Richard Wagner

Dr. Richard Wagner, a Seattle based clinical sexologist, spoke with Life Matters Media this week about the many positive effects physical intimacy may have on the terminally ill. As the critically acclaimed film The Sessions has brought this topic to the forefront, it has left in its wake many issues in which to delve deeper. Wagner, a former Roman Catholic priest, is the author of  “The Amateur’s Guide to Death and Dying: Enhancing the End of Life.” He has practiced sex therapy and relationship counseling for more than three decades.

You have a degree in theology from the Jesuit School at Berkeley, and you’re a former priest. How did you get involved with end of life and intimacy? 

I was a Catholic priest for 20 years. While that wasn’t a particularly happy association, I’m the only Catholic priest in the world with a doctorate in clinical sexology. I wrote my doctoral thesis on the sexual attitudes and behaviors of gay priests in the active ministry in 1981.  That was long before the Church was willing to acknowledge there was even such a thing as a gay priest. The fallout from this research blew my ministry out of the water.

In 1981, the same year I finished my doctorate, a remarkable thing was happening to gay men in San Francisco and elsewhere. They were dying of some mysterious disease. Some speculated that this was God’s retribution for the gay lifestyle.  How quickly we leap to that conclusion when we are ashamed and frightened.  Most of my friends died in the first wave, between 1981-85. None of us knew what to do. My friends looked to me for guidance, since I had a background in psychotherapy and religion.  But, to tell you the truth, I was just as lost as anyone.

I found myself sitting with all these men as they were dying. It was ghastly. But sitting with death was precisely what I needed to do.  It helped me to desensitize death and prepared me for what was to come.  I realized early on that dying in America is often a very lonely and very passive affair.

I wrote the “Amateur’s Guide” because of the work I was doing with sick, elder and dying people – not just AIDS patients. I saw this pattern develop; the end of life is more difficult than it needed to be. In response I founded Paradigm, a nonprofit organization with an outreach to enhance life near death for sick, elder, and dying people. It provided an opportunity for participants to discuss end of life concerns and get the support they needed to fully live the end of their life. The program was so successful; I decided to put the program in book form.

Let’s talk about intimacy and end of life care.

Just because someone is dying doesn’t mean that they have stopped being human. One of the things that humans need in their life is intimacy.  And sometimes that intimacy involves genital sexuality. But this concern is hardly ever talked about in terms of the end of life, nor is it included in disease-based discussions. I mean, when is the last time you heard someone talk about the sexual concerns of people with cancer or heart disease? Our culture is uncomfortable with the concept of sick, elder, and dying people having such desires. But if you listen to these folks they’ll tell you what they need and ho difficult it is to live without.

Could sexual intimacy be considered a form of palliative care?

I would think, yes. If you’ve had an active intimate/sex life up until the point you were diagnosed and then all that suddenly disappears, there will be problems. I’m not just talking about genital sexuality; I’m talking about all intimacy needs we humans have — being present to, touching, as well as pleasure. It’s all about what is possible, on a personal level, with one’s intimate partner(s). So many people, even people who love sick, elder, and dying people don’t know how to touch them.  And sick, elder, and dying people often report that the only touch they receive is very clinical touch. And that’s not all the life affirming, if you ask me.

Wagner has also shared thoughts on the critically acclaimed film “The Sessions”