Tonight, in a British TV First, the Moment a Man Dies in an Assisted Suicide Will Be Shown. We Apologise to Readers Upset by These Images but They Provoke a Profound Debate: Should This Most Intimate of Family Scenes Really Be Broadcast?

Daily Mail (London), December 10, 2008 | Go to article overview

Tonight, in a British TV First, the Moment a Man Dies in an Assisted Suicide Will Be Shown. We Apologise to Readers Upset by These Images but They Provoke a Profound Debate: Should This Most Intimate of Family Scenes Really Be Broadcast?


Byline: Chris Brooke, Paul Revoir

NEARING THE END: Drifting in and out of consciousness, Craig is close to death. His wife Mary holds his hand. She later kisses him farewell 2 TICKING CLOCK: Craig Ewert prepares to bite down on a timer which switches off his life support machine in 45 minutes 1

THE harrowing moment a retired university professor dies in an 'assisted suicide' will be shown on television tonight.

Craig Ewert, 59, is filmed turning off his ventilator and taking a lethal dose of drugs washed down with apple juice.

Just minutes before his death, Mary, his wife of 37 years, asks him: 'Can I give you a big kiss?' She adds: 'I love you sweetheart so much. Have a safe journey and see you some time.' It will be the first assisted suicide shown on British television and is likely to trigger a fresh broadcasting standards row.

The programme was condemned last night as dangerous and grotesque amid fears that it would 'undermine people's right to life' and risked glorifying suicide.

The anger provoked by the Sky documentary on the controversial Swiss euthanasia group Dignitas came as it was disclosed that the Crown Prosecution Service would bring no charges against the parents of a paralysed rugby player who also committed suicide in Switzerland.

That decision and tonight's documentary will reignite the debate about the rights and wrongs of assisted suicides, which are illegal in this country.

Mr Ewert, an American father-of-two who was living in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease five months before his death.

His health deteriorated rapidly. He required a ventilator to help him breathe and the chronic wasting disease threatened to rob him of his ability to swallow.

Mr Ewert decided to use the services of Dignitas to end his life and paid it [pounds sterling]3,000.

In the film he is seen talking lucidly about the reasons for his decision to die and describes his body as a 'living tomb'.

Oscar-winning Canadian documentary director John Zaritsky was given access to Dignitas and recorded everything that happened on September 26, 2006, with the blessing of Mr Ewert and his family.

Helped by Dignitas 'escort' Arthur Bernhard, Mr Ewert is shown using his teeth to activate a timer which switches off his lifesupport machine in 45 minutes.

The patient is then warned: 'Mr Ewert, if you drink this you're going to die.' As Beethoven's Ninth plays in the background, he drinks the lethal dose of barbi- the thing is that I really cannot.

turate sodium phenobarbital from a cup using a straw. The Dignitas representative, who holds the cup for him, says: 'I wish you good travelling' and he loses consciousness minutes later as his wife holds his hand.

Later there is a loud beep as the breathing aid machine turns itself off.

The Dignitas man checks the pulse in his neck and says: 'He's gone.' Mrs Ewert is then seen kissing his body.

Explaining the situation he found himself in, Mr Ewert said: 'I am tired of the disease but I am not tired of living. I still enjoy life enough that I would like to continue, but the thing is that I really cannot.

'If I opt for life then that is choosing to be tortured rather than end this journey and start the next one. I cannot take the risk. Let's face it, when you're completely paralysed and cannot talk how do you let somebody know you are suffering? …

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Tonight, in a British TV First, the Moment a Man Dies in an Assisted Suicide Will Be Shown. We Apologise to Readers Upset by These Images but They Provoke a Profound Debate: Should This Most Intimate of Family Scenes Really Be Broadcast?
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