Bioethics, Autonomy and Liberty of Movement Narrative Power
This article was first published on October 13, 2019, byBioethics.net"Where the World Finds Bioethics."
THE LURE OF THIS LANDis a feature-length documentary byAlexandra Lexton.Lexton is a consummate film professional, writer, and narrative educator now stepping into the director’s chair. This work expresses a gentle passion for extracting primary motivating forces driving atypical protagonists. THE LURE OF THIS LAND (LOTL) is a filmic exploration of individual autonomy manifested by self-determination through the liberty of movement. Here, autonomy is defined as the right of individuals to define and act in their own best-enlightened self-interest. Competent people are allowed to knowingly take risks with which many would not dare nor agree. In fact, some of this film's risk-takers might be considered less than competent and certainly quirky by virtue of their devil may care attitude. Shifting geographies is the essential mechanism through which those featured in The Lure of This Land have sought self-actualization. Their journeys reflect the principles set forth in The Freedom of Movement amendmentadopted by the United Nations Human Rights Committee andthe International Covenant on Civil and Political Rightsin 1999. The amendment states that, “Liberty of movement is an indispensable condition for the free development of a person.”
Director-Producer Alexandra Lexton
Cultures are groups of people who draw a circle around themselves encompassing specific characteristics. Lexton’s protagonists have come from a broad range of backgrounds, most are first or second-generation ex-patriots making homes in Belize. Many of those interviewed hail from far-flung places but also some from nearer neighbors. Those asked but who chose not to be interviewed did so for reasons so complex as to warrant a separate film. Above all else, THE LURE OF THIS LAND is about people who move… SPOILER ALERT: You do not always get a storybook ending in the documentary. Exercising rights is not a panacea but more often a struggle.They chose to move to Belize.
Belize’s GDP ranks among the lowest in the world. The nation no longer has natural economic resources to harvest. The mahogany is gone with the British and the wealthier American neighbors to the North. Lexton’s Belizean expatriates appear to be those heeding the call of the better angels. Bordered by Guatemala, the Great Barrier Reef, jungle, rain forests, and Mayan World Heritages sites—the nation is hemmed in to the Northern Triangle of Central America from which many strive to escape. Each of the film’s characters operates from different religious, socioeconomic, and cultural bases. But, there is an overarching theme between the protagonists. Their need for freedom of movement,Human Rights and protection of the environment are interdependent—and they know it.
As LOTL rolls, savvy public health, scientific, and politically astute viewers want to ask, “What about Belize’s high rates of… HIV/AIDS, deaths of youths by a car wreck, rampant cardiovascular disease, persistent malaria, risks to the great barrier reef, or conflicts with Guatemala?” “This is not that film,” Lexton clarifies during her interview. She proudly states “You make the film you get.” Lexton commands viewers to attend to what you can learn from the narrative not what you don’t—though she recognizes an alert audience stimulated to know more is always an honor.
In clinical practice, other helping professions, and research, workers are obligated to intersect with people about whom they have little understanding. Catchwords like ‘diversity’ and ‘disparity’ abound in professions as shortcuts. But they are almost always euphemisms for race and class. There are characteristics of people who are not dependent on socio-economic indicators but something of a more innate human condition than the man-made. THE LURE OF THIS LAND defies the use of simple reductionist paradigms for how its characters simultaneously alike and different.
The power of documentary film applied to bioethical thought is in the demands made on the listener to engage in hearing complex narratives well enough to explore their meanings. Initially, the verbal expressions of those people in the LURE OF THIS LAND seem as foreign as Klingon. Lexton lets us see how different these wanderers are from linear thinkers. The magic of Lexton’s integration of the unique environs and these people forces us to practice not just listening but truly hearing.
The film’s process digs a berth into the audience’s way of seeing things. LOTL provides an alternative narrative structure to the dominant ones on expatriation. Surprisingly this screen work changed the writer of this review’s biases. Those biases were generally negative towards expatriates from wealthy nations—assuming that they all were taking up digs and living above the standard of their new home’s majority peoples. Changing points of view is a good thing for bioethicists and are, in fact, a part of our jobs.
Another secret weapon of THE LURE OF THIS LAND is that the film turns the popular “migration under duress” paradigm on its head. How self-determination, not self collapse, manifests as liberty of movement clarifies that ‘migration’ is not running away but toward. ‘Migration’ may be on a continuum with, but is not the same as, being a refugee or seeking asylum. This film posits that the intuition sparking migration derives from the well-spring of self-realization, not terror. The liberty of movement is the visible sine qua non of autonomy whether it be switching home geographies or choosing how one saunters down a street.
In this little movie, Alexander Lexton forces viewers to pass through the looking glass into a world were people consciously attempt to escape arrested development. THE LURE OF THIS LAND is a gift that can help bioethics expand the understanding of autonomy.
This article was original Published onBioethics.net"Where the World finds Bioethics" September 9, 2019 and is copied here with that publications peremission.
ASK DR. RUTH by director Ryan White shows the personal lifestyle of the 90-year-old sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer. That lifestyle is simple—work, family, home, friends, and the familiarity of happy spaces. It’s a life most people, particularly elders, want to enjoy. White’s film intertwines that norm with the doctor’s unfathomably complex personal, professional and psychological underpinnings. At a height of 4 foot 7 inches, hormones and the assaultive stresses of world history have denied Dr. Ruth a body size reflecting her true stature. What Dr. Ruth lacks in height is more than compensated by a giant intellect and humanitarian zeal.
Photo courtesy of ASK DR. RUTH, courtesy Hulu Originals film
Six months before I ever saw the famous Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report hailing the beginning of what would soon be called the AIDS epidemic, I heard Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s unique voice over the radio, foreshadowing a dangerous future. I knew about it already, having lost a friend who was among the index cases. Dr. Ruth talked about a new deadly, maybe sexually-transmitted, blood-borne disease on her radio show, Sexually Speaking (WYNY-FM, New York) that I could sometimes hear at medical school in Omaha, Nebraska when atmospheric conditions were just right. Dr. Ruth’s message was a clarion call for more research, compassion and care for the victims of this mysterious illness. Until then, I had never heard a direct command on any FCC-controlled airway to “use condoms,” never mind the implication that such use is an act of love in itself.
Seeing Ryan White’s ASK DR. RUTH clarified for me why this particular sex therapist might have chosen to take the ethically dicey move of ‘outing’ AIDS prior to the CDCdeclaring the epidemic. Buried somewhere between beneficence and justice is always the protection of innocent parties. White’s film helped me understand how Dr. Ruth might be among the best equipped to recognize the difference between moral ambiguities and moral imperatives.
As important as the historical backdrop of Dr. Ruth’s career as a sex therapist, her story is also the tale of a woman who is now in the ‘Old, Old’ phase of life. Aging may be even more universal than sex itself since it starts from the moment of birth, and on Ruth it looks darn good. Throughout the film, the director depicts the doctor gathering and summarizing information that helps her make sense of her life. She’s a therapist by training and nature, and hard-wired for the task.
Born Karola Ruth Siegel, she became Dr. Westheimer after marrying her dearly beloved late husband, Fred. Ruth is a tightly packed powerhouse of a woman, who throughout ASK DR. RUTH is often depicted giggling. In one scene, our hero asks Amazon’s Alexa,’“Who is Dr. Ruth Westheimer?”. Alexa responds straight from Wikipedia,”Ruth Westheimer (born June 4, 1928), better known as Dr. Ruth, is a German-American sex therapist, media personality, and author…”
The simplicity of the response also makes Ruth giggle. This is most likely because the doctor is more inclined to state what she is not,than what she is.Ruth claims that she is not ‘a feminist’ and that she is not ‘political’. She is not ‘a person who will ever touch a gun again’—despite having been a trained sniper by the predecessor of the Israeli Defense Forces in British Mandated Palestine. Dr. Ruth explains that she is not a “Holocaust Survivor”. She believes calling herself such demeans those who died or lived through unspeakable horrors of Auschwitzand other venues of atrocities.
The language that Ruth uses to identify herself (in any of her four languages) is “Holocaust Orphan.” In her life she has been a mother, a grandmother, a sex therapist, author, educator, and friend. Trained in psychology, sociology and holding an Ed.D., Dr. Ruth’s light bubbly nature does not hide the precision of her choice of words.
Photo courtesy of ASK DR. RUTH through Hulu Originals film
The film takes the viewer on a tour of the most sustaining places of her life. White allows the protagonist to guide the camera in the present tense. Dr. Ruth’s youth is depicted through animation—the go-to approach of the current documentary film era. Though memoirs are generally as much an invention of memory as truth, this film had great luck: Ruth was always a writer, one who kept and held onto journals . Those writings and a handful of photograph were used to createthe animated sequences in ASK DR. RUTH.
The process of creating a film is as important as is the final product. Good filmmakers, crew and stars blend to make more than something to be seen on the screen. White’s ASKS DR RUTH comes from a place that is weary of just documenting despair, opting to show how one triumphs over it. Dr. Ruth’s story is not exactly a Horatio Alger tale. Under her own steam and given a chance to not die in the Holocaust, she became a single working mother and student. Late in her life she found the strength to face the specific documentation of the murders of her parents during the Holocaust, a task she had previously avoided for most of her adulthood.
ASK DR. RUTH helps us makes sense of the remarkable resilience of Karola Ruth Siegel—a girl who was given refuge during the Holocaust. There are otherunaccompaniedchildren like Karola sitting on borders around the world and in the country of this writing. ASK DR. RUTH is a gift from Ryan White to us. But what do you think Karola wants from us? I would bet it is the chance for other children to live long lives dedicated to acts of love.