Religious groups and pro-life charities have condemned the BBC for broadcasting a documentary showing a man’s assisted suicide, Monday evening.
BBC’s controversial program called “Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die” has reignited a fierce euthanasia debate as critics say the program “romanticized” assisted suicide.
The chief executive of CARE, Nola Leach also said, “I rather thought that we had moved on from the days when people gathered in crowds to watch other people die. That the BBC should facilitate this is deeply disturbing. One wonders whether the BBC has any interest in treating this subject impartially.
Leach added, “This is compounded by the fact that, rather than fronting tonight’s program with someone neutral, the task has been given to a well-known assisted suicide campaigner.”
The program was led by famous novelist Terry Pratchett, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008. Pratchett is well-known for being a strong activist for assisted suicide to be made legal.
The program showed Pratchett accompanying a 71-year-old man and his wife from Britain to a clinic in Switzerland.
Millionaire hotel owner Peter Smedley gave the BBC permission to film his final moments, and cameras show the moment he drinks poison to end his life shortly before last Christmas.
Smedley drank the poison and then says to the camera: “That was fairly innocuous.”
However, in scenes that shocked viewers Smedley is then shown gasping for breath as his face quickly turns red. As he continues to choke he pleads for some water and is in clear discomfort.
Anti-euthanasia campaigners have condemned the program saying it portrayed an idealized picture of assisted suicide, and was not an honest and balanced depiction. Critics have warned that the program could lead to people wanting to follow in Smedley’s footsteps without knowing the full picture.
The former Bishop of Rochester in England, Michael Nazir-Ali rebuked the BBC saying: “Its own guidelines state that the portrayal of suicide has the potential to make this appear possible, and even appropriate, to the vulnerable.”
He continued, "As a public service broadcaster the BBC has an obligation to provide a balanced presentation of the moral issues of the day, especially when legality is also at stake. So far, there has been very little evidence of such balance in this matter."
Rev. Michael Langrish, who is the Bishop of Exeter said, "The law still enshrines that sense of intrinsic value of life. But the law ultimately is not there to constrain individual choice. It’s there to constrain third party action and complicity in another person’s death."
The “Care Not Killing” charity has called on British authorities to urgently carry out a review into how the BBC covers euthanasia and assisted suicide. The charity warns of a “significant” risk that copycat suicides would follow the program.
“This was a grossly misleading and unbalanced piece of dangerous propaganda that could lead to an increase in suicides,” said Dr Peter Sanders, Campaign Director of Care Not Killing.
Sanders explained: “There were no arguments on the benefits of end-of-life care and providing support for vulnerable people. The current law was dismissed and those who oppose changing the law were given no right of reply. Our current law strikes the right balance. The BBC has broken many guidelines on portraying suicide and it should be ashamed that it has tried to pass this off as a serious documentary.”
However, Pratchett defended his work. In another debate on BBC’s Newsnight program following the documentary, Pratchett said: “I believe it should be possible for someone stricken with a serious and ultimately fatal illness to choose to die peacefully with medical help, rather than suffer.”
The BBC also defended the program. Executive Emma Swain said: “The film does show some other perspectives, but it is not critical that every film we make is completely impartial and balanced. It is across our output that we need to provide [balance].”