“Kim’s Choice” is about one woman’s decision to starve herself in order to die on her own terms.
With empathy, inspired reporting and compassionate visuals, this multimedia documentary tells the story of a hardworking family beset by Huntington’s Disease, a devastating neurological disorder that combines elements of schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Kim Teske, the middle of six siblings, wanted to die before the disease robbed her of her autonomy and her sanity, and she was forced into an institution like her older brother, Brian. There was a time when he too wanted to die, but the disease overpowered him before he could end his own life.
No doctor would help Kim for fear of running afoul of Canada’s law against assisting a suicide.
Two sisters agreed to support Kim while she slowly starved herself to death. It took 12 days of refusing food and drink, but Kim finally achieved her final wish — a death with dignity.
Reporter Sandra Martin and videographer Timothy Moore spent time with the family in Ontario and Saskatchewan over more than three months, gaining their trust, watching how family dynamics played out. Photographer Kevin van Paassen captured the final week of Kim’s life, when she became too weak to move.
Each member of the extended family had a story, especially Kim’s mother Gwen. Widowed at 39 with six children ranging from 16 to 7, she used her faith, her dogged work ethic, and her ferocious love to keep the family together, while the horrific genetic lottery played itself out over three generations.
At first Gwen insisted she was only to be an observer, but after meeting with the The Globe team several times, she became a compelling interview, as the family came together to support Kim in her dreadful choice.
The team also flew to Regina to meet another of Kim’s sisters, Deanna, with her sunny disposition, is determined to live out her life, knowing that she will end up in an institution like her older brother Brian, unable to walk, feed herself, or speak without slurring her words.
The Globe team spent a lot of time with the family. We felt it was important to observe the daily routines and conversations to properly document the emotional ups and downs of Kim’s decision on her family.
Having come to know the family, Moore was able to capture many little details such as the tree outside Kim’s apartment; a tree Kim felt she’d eventually come back as in the afterlife. The more we got to know the family, the more they confided in us and talked with each other about Kim’s choice.
Afterwards, they said that it helped them to understand why she wanted to die and accept her decision.
For the presentation, we wove together a strongly reported story, a compelling mini-doc plus two smaller video features and tender photography. Interactive designer Christopher Manza wanted to create an immersive experience so users could feel the enormous weight of Kim’s decision on all members of the family.
To set the tone for the piece we decided on a lead in with slides of text that would draw the reader in while immediately getting at the gravity of the story. Each slide held a single sentence that revealed progressively more of the story.
The response was huge, and reflective of the number of people all too familiar with this grave issue. The mini-doc was also named a Webby Honoree.