I'm Terminally Ill ... and This Saccharine Portrayal of Assisted Suicide Appals Me; as BBC Shows British Millionaire's Death at Swiss Clinic

Daily Mail (London), June 11, 2011 | Go to article overview

I'm Terminally Ill ... and This Saccharine Portrayal of Assisted Suicide Appals Me; as BBC Shows British Millionaire's Death at Swiss Clinic


Byline: Geoff Morris MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS SUFFERER

AS A piece of shameless propaganda, Terry Pratchett's film is brilliant.

But as an analysis of the truth behind so-called 'assisted suicide', it is grossly misleading and unbalanced.

The programme, which will be screened on BBC2 on Monday, shows best-selling author and Alzheimer's sufferer Sir Terry discussing his campaign to legalise this type of suicide in Britain, and reflecting on the possibility of ending his own life.

In a crucial segment, he accompanies 71-year-old British millionaire Peter Smedley to Switzerland's Dignitas clinic - which has become notorious as a centre for lawfully-sanctioned assisted suicide.

As he candidly explains, Mr Smedley has decided he wants to die because he has motor neurone disease.

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. Yet, for all its unique explicitness, the film is hardly honest.

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.

So the controversial death scene in the clinic, amid the forests and snow-capped mountains of Switzerland, is suffused with beauty. All that is missing is a choir of heavenly angels.

For me, a disabled man with multiple sclerosis, this approach is profoundly troubling.

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.

What has been inflicted on viewers is a repellent exercise in deceit. So untrue and distorted is Sir Terry's film that it should really be classified as fictional drama rather than documentary.

Sir Terry is shown weeping at Mr Smedley's death, describing him gushingly as 'the bravest man I ever met' and concluding that 'this has been a happy event' .

But the film fails to acknowledge any of the serious concerns about assisted suicide.

There is no recognition that legalisation could actually encourage abuse and even coercion. And I fear that any such change will mean that disabled people, like me, are even more marginalised 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.

But how could this be achieved in practice? In a climate where assisted suicide is approved by the state, it will become difficult to mount a prosecution against someone who claims to have acted in accordance with the wishes of the deceased (who is no longer around to say otherwise). …

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