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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The right to die

It’s no wonder the British papers focus on assisted suicide and euthanasia today, with Sky about to show the moment a man with motor neurone disease chose the dignified way out.

Craig Ewert (59) went to the very sensible Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal.

Anti-euthanasia groups are, predictably, not chuffed about this – and you just know there’s a big religious element in that lot. Well they can reach for the off switch. Provided all the checks and balances are seen to (and Dignitas works within Swiss law), rational people have no difficulty coping with the idea that someone might wish to take his own life, and, if he’s incapable of delivering the coup de grâce himself, asking for some help.

The Daily Mail talks of a “shocking” film that’s likely to cause a row over broadcasting standards.

The Daily Mirror asks whether the Sky documentary, Right to Die?, is just an attempt to boost ratings.

Well, it’s a fact of life that programmes are there to boost ratings. That’s how it works. Just as your newspaper, Mr Mirror, uses all sorts of salacious means to boost sales. That doesn’t mean you don’t also carry useful stuff, and, equally, it doesn’t mean that Sky doesn’t carry useful stuff, either.

The Independent, on the other hand, confronts it head-on. On its front page, Mary Ewert writes about Craig’s decision to enlist the Swiss charity to help him die. She says her husband wanted his death to be filmed because “when death is hidden . . . people don’t face fears about it”.

The red-top Sun is sensible about the thing, too, in its feature on the subject (including the photo we reproduce here of Ewert about to die, while a doctor checks his pulse). It does quote John Beyer of the self-appointed TV watchdog Mediawatch UK, who fears people may get the wrong idea from watching it.

“This is quite an important political issue at the moment and my anxieties are that the programme will influence public opinion,” he says. “Documentary makers produce all manner of programmes and no one can stop that or intervene unless they fail to comply with the requirements of the Communications Act.

“If this programme is not impartial and promotes euthanasia then it would be in breach of the act – in short it must not influence members of the public or a change in the law. Broadcasters must always remain impartial otherwise they could influence the public or other sufferers into making a similar action – that’s my anxiety.”

Yes, a programme like this should be impartial, but what if it did influence other sufferers? It may provide the information for other sufferers to seek this way out – dignified, painless and quick.

And why should it not influence a change in the law? It would be a sensible change if a clinic like Dignitas’s were to be set up here in the UK, with death on the National Health Service (paradoxical though that sounds).

This programme follows yesterday’s good news that the parents of a 23-year-old rugby player who killed himself at the same Swiss clinic will not be charged over his death.

The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service announced that yesterday in the case of Daniel James (23), was left paralysed from the chest down after a scrum collapsed on him during a practice session in March last year. He died by drinking a barbiturate solution in the Dignitas clinic in September, with his parents Julie and Mark, by his side.

The CPS had considered bringing a prosecution under the Suicide Act, but decided it would not be in the public interest. No one has so far been successfully prosecuted for assisting suicide.

See this Dignitas site with some information in English.

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