05/05/2014 09:00 am ET


In 1991 my father was given six months to live. He was not a man easily dictated to, and with the help of dedicated doctors, he spent the next 10 years fighting for his humanity. I was a child and lacked the faculty to fully comprehend what my father was dealing with, but it was clear that he was a man of exemplary courage. However, it was in his final days, with the laws of our country challenging his dignity, that my father showed what it is to be truly courageous. This is where Lullaby began.

As the fortunate inhabitants of modern America, we constantly explore, challenge and evolve our definition of freedom. We struggle to define it because it lives at the root of almost every debate. That includes the discourse on the right to die (with dignity).

Patients still have no voice, nor do their loved ones. This is partly because no terminally ill person has lived long enough to have their case heard by the Supreme Court, but perhaps more so because Americans are uncomfortable accepting death as a part of life.

I decided to make a film. It would examine life through the prism of death. It would be life-affirming, joyous, and heartbreaking all at once. It was time to pull back the curtain and take an honest, real, human look at a subject matter that every single one of us will go through. It was never going to be pretty.

This is a complex space. I wanted to make a film that accurately reflected this, so a narrow documentary or a legal drama was out. The hope was to create an experience through which people could honestly look inward, a film to provide comfort for those who were or are dealing with similar experiences and may have been shamed into silence, and hopefully to contribute to a larger discourse. So I picked a different courtroom, one in which dramas like this are played out daily: a hospital.

A terminally ill man lies in a hospital bed. His life has been full. He is surrounded by loved ones. All his mental faculties are present and strong, but his body is long dead. He has said everything he needs to. He is ready for goodbye. His daughter, an attorney, is our ad hoc prosecutor. His son, an artist, the defense. His compassionate doctor, his wife, his friends and his relatives are character witnesses. A young girl with bone-marrow cancer is our conscience. And the dying man is our judge.

Over the course of the story, this family comes together inside these unforgiving walls. They rise, crumble, fight, laugh and love. They ultimately come to understand that freedom is about not belonging to someone else but also means you can't just do anything you like. Herein lies the problem. Theoretically they all agree that a man shouldn't take his own life, because he has a responsibility to his family and to society. But when that man is someone you love and is in immense pain....

In 2014 a person should be allowed to do whatever they please with their own life, and they should be able to do so with dignity and comfort. But consider the debilitated father who adores his family. His inability to work and his lack of appropriate insurance has made him a financial burden. Like any good father he would do anything in his power to help his family... even end his own life. Consider the child born with illness. She's full of laughter and love, but she requires constant medical care and attention. Should her parents or guardians have the ability to end that innocent life? How about a depressed person, unable to see the forest for the trees? An institution charged with caring for the elderly? Insurance companies? The deeper you dig, the more questions you find. After all of this, I still don't have an answer, but what is clear is that this is a conversation we need to be having.

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