BBC Showing Documentary Depicting Man Dying in Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   Steven Ertelt   Jun 13, 2011   |   5:31PM    London, England

The BBC is coming under heavy fire from pro-life and disability rights advocates who are upset that the British television network will show a documentary tonight featuring a man dying via assisted suicide.

The program will feature footage of a man dying at a Dignitas suicide tourism clinic in Switzerland and it will be hosted by Sir Terry Pratchett. Geoff Morris, a terminally ill multiple sclerosis sufferer, writes in the London Daily Mail he is very upset by the program.

“As a piece of shameless propaganda, Terry Pratchett’s film is brilliant,” he said. “But as an analysis of the truth behind so-called ‘assisted suicide’, it is grossly misleading and unbalanced.”

“The program, which will be screened on BBC2 on Monday, shows best-selling author and Alzheimer’s sufferer Sir Terry discussing his campaign to legalize this type of suicide in Britain, and reflecting on the possibility of ending his own life,” Morris explained. “In a crucial segment, he accompanies 71-year-old British millionaire Peter Smedley to Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic – which has become notorious as a center for lawfully-sanctioned assisted suicide.”

“And in an unprecedented move for a terrestrial broadcaster, the film covers the actual moment of his death, the camera capturing Mr Smedley’s final cries for water, rasping breaths and involuntary convulsions,” Morris says.

“In their eagerness to back the campaign to change the law, Sir Terry and the producers have presented this type of suicide as an enriching, even uplifting choice,’ the disabled man complains. “And particularly regrettable is the role  of the BBC. As the nation’s public service broadcaster, the Corporation has a duty  to give both sides of the argument, not  to act as a mouthpiece for a highly partisan cause. But the film fails to acknowledge any of the serious concerns about assisted suicide.”

“There is no recognition that legalization could actually encourage abuse and even coercion. And I fear that any such change will mean that disabled people, like me, are even more marginalized in our society, so that a swift exit comes to be seen as a merciful release. The case that Sir Terry presents is riddled with myth-making. He and his supporters like to talk of ‘robust safeguards’ in the proposed new law to protect the frail, the ill, and the disabled from lethal exploitation,” Morris says.

John Smeaton of the pro-life group SPUC is not happy either.

“If Mr Morris’ comments are valid, the BBC is violating its public service duty to impartiality yet again, by broadcasting items favorable to the assisted suicide cause,” he says. “By broadcasting a person’s suicide, and providing a platform for the promotion of assisted suicide. the BBC is undermining suicide prevention campaigns, including BBC and World Health Organization (WHO) guidance on media coverage regarding suicide.”

Smeaton says the document will likely “present a fictionalized picture of the Swiss suicide system, is strongly biased in favor of this highly controversial suicide process, and fails to address any objections or alternatives to assisted suicide.”

ACTION: Please complain to the BBC about the showing of this documentary, by visiting and filling out the online form at https://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/forms. You can also telephone BBC Audience Services on 03700 100 222 or write to BBC Complaints, PO Box 1922, Darlington, DL3 0UR.