Monday 6 June 2011

Pratchett programme is further evidence of BBC bias and will fuel more suicides

The BBC’s decision to screen a man's dying moments at the Dignitas suicide facility in a documentary fronted by Terry Pratchett has already come under heavy criticism.

A five-minute sequence in the BBC2 programme, due to be shown on 13 June, shows celebrity author Pratchett witnessing Peter, a British man in his early 70s who has motor neurone disease, taking his own life at the controversial Swiss facility.

This is yet another blatant example of the BBC playing the role of cheerleader in the vigorous campaign being staged by the pro-euthanasia lobby to legalise assisted suicide in Britain.’

Having failed spectacularly in the House of Lords twice since 2006 to convince legislators that legalising assisted suicide is safe, and finding themselves blocked repeatedly by medical professional bodies, Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) is now using celebrity endorsement and media portrayal of suicide in order to soften up public opinion ahead of a new drive to change the law later this year.

By putting their extensive public resources behind this campaign and by giving Terry Pratchett, who is both a patron on DID and key funder of the controversial Falconer Commission, a platform to propagate his views, the BBC is actively fuelling this move to impose assisted suicide on this country and runs the risk of pushing vulnerable people over the edge into taking their lives. It is also flouting both its own guidelines on suicide portrayal and impartiality.

This portrayal of suicide by the BBC, along with Pratchett’s celebrity endorsement, breaches both international and BBC guidelines on suicide portrayal and risks encouraging further suicides amongst those who are sick, elderly or disabled. It is both a recipe for elder abuse and also a threat to vulnerable people, many of whom already feel under pressure at a time of financial crisis and threatened health cuts to end their lives for fear of being a burden on others. The dangers of portraying suicide on the media (Werther effect, suicide contagion, or copycat suicide) are well recognised in the medical literature.

The BBC’s own editorial guidelines on portrayal of suicide are very clear and call for ‘great sensitivity’: ‘Factual reporting and fictional portrayal of suicide, attempted suicide and self-harm have the potential to make such actions appear possible, and even appropriate, to the vulnerable.’

The WHO guidance on the media coverage of suicide is equally unambiguous: ‘Don’t publish photographs or suicide notes. Don’t report specific details of the method used. Don’t give simplistic reasons. Don’t glorify or sensationalize suicide.’

This latest move by the BBC is a disgraceful use of licence-payers money and further evidence of a blatant campaigning stance. The corporation has now produced five documentaries or docudramas since 2008 portraying assisted suicide in a positive light.

Where are the balancing programmes showing the benefits of palliative care, promoting investment on social support for vulnerable people or highlighting the great dangers of legalisation which have convinced parliaments in Australia, France, Canada, Scotland and the US to resist any change in the law in the last twelve months alone? One will not it seems, hear any of this from the BBC.

The BBC is in flagrant breach of both its own guidelines on suicide portrayal and also its public duty to remain impartial. This will inevitably lead to further criticism of bias and will only serve to place the lives of more vulnerable people at risk.


  1. I didn't know about this programme until I got "What's On TV" this morning. With that programme, and "Emmerdale" having its euthanasia plot (I got the impression that Ashley the vicar was meant to be a nasty bigot for not wanting to do the funeral) I am wondering if next week is Euthanasia Week on TV or something like that.

  2. This isn't just a religious issue, either. I'm an atheist but anti AS because it is disablist. It should be allowed for all adults or none. If I, as a disabled person, should be offered euthenasia when I'm depressed, so should my able-bodied peers. To not do so places a different value on my life & is fascist.

  3. I agree this is not a religious issue. Attempts to legalise assisted suicide or euthanasia only for particular categories of people (eg elderly, disabled or terminally ill people) are indeed discriminatory in the sense that they remove legal protection from those people but not from others.

    The removal of legal protection from any group of people makes those people more open to exploitation or abuse because the law no longer acts as a deterrent to those who have something to gain (financially or otherwise) from their deaths.

  4. I'm an atheist and don't have a problem with legal assisted suicide for anyone, disabled or not. I think the reason assisted suicide is a big legal issue for disabled or terminally ill people is because they are less physically able to carry out an 'illegal' suicide for themselves and end their life painlessly. Morality aside, I'm able bodied enough that were I to want to commit suicide I could do so. If you've lost all your motor functions you'd have to ask someone to help you, which under current laws would lead to someone being investigated for murder.

    I disagree with the idea that the BBC fundamentally must be showing bias by airing a programme about assisted suicide. But I haven't watched it yet so I will reserve judgement for now.

  5. People are free to commit suicide with the help of their mates, if they wish. But the proponents of AS are not asking for "friends" to assist them, they are demanding (not asking) that DOCTORS help them. So it is not "AS" they want, but "PAS", by the way. Why on earth should the medical profession, which is there to save lives as per the Hippocratic oath, collude in murder? I am a doctor, and I want no part of it. If people wish for their friends not to be prosecuted for assisting them in suicide, then let them change the law to allow this. Or else they can have euthanasia booths run by trained volunteers. Not DOCTORS.

    Btw, the BBC is biased because they are not permitting EQUAL coverage for those who are opposed to euthanasia. Almost all UK doctors are against PAS - but the BBC has not shown any programmes airing doctors' concerns. If that is not bias, then what is?

    (A Doctor who is against Physician Assisted Suicide).

  6. People in favour of AS don't specifically want doctors to help them, and I don't think anyone is expecting every single doctor to have to consider assisting suicides as part of their job - in much the same way plenty of doctors don't carry out abortions. What people want is protection under the law for volunteers or trained professionals to help them end their lives, and not live in fear of prosecution.

  7. People are already assisted to die well in the UK, through excellent palliative care, with great dignity and love, and great sacrifice on the part of the medical profession. To suggest that complicity in suicide is somehow more dignified is an insult to the great hospice movement in our nations.

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