Brown: TV should deal with assisted suicide sensitively

BRITISH prime minister Gordon Brown said yesterday he was personally opposed to assisted suicide, ahead of the broadcast of a programme in which a terminally ill man is seen ending his life.

The death of Craig Ewert, 59, who suffered from motor neurone disease (MND), was shown on Sky Television last night during the programme Right To Die?

Mr Brown told the Commons it was important the issues were dealt with “sensitively and without sensationalism”. Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, he said: “I believe that it is necessary to ensure that there is never a case in this country where a sick or elderly person feels under pressure to agree to an assisted death or somehow feels it is the expected thing to do. That is why I have always opposed legislation for assisted deaths.”

Dr Peter Saunders, director of the campaign group Care Not Killing, accused programme makers of a “cynical attempt to boost television ratings”. “It’s a slippery slope. The danger is we start to believe in a story that there is such a thing as a life not worth living. A change in the law would put pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives so as not to be a burden.”

Mr Ewert’s wife, Mary, said it was about “facing the end of life honestly”. She wrote in the Independent: “He was keen to have it shown because, when death is hidden and private, people don’t face their fears about it.

“They don’t acknowledge that it is going to happen, they don’t reflect on it, they don’t want to face it. That’s the taboo.”

Mr Ewert, a former university professor who lived in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, travelled to Switzerland to commit suicide, assisted by the controversial organisation, Dignitas.

At a Zurich clinic, with his wife by his side, the American father-of-two drank a mixture of sedatives and turned off his own ventilator using his teeth. He allowed his death in September 2006 to be filmed for a documentary by Oscar-winning director John Zaritsky.

Liberal Swiss laws have allowed Dignitas, founded in 1998, to offer assisted suicides legally and, so far, more than 600 people have died at its clinics.

Before his death, Mr Ewert said: “I’d like to continue. The thing is that I really can’t. I can’t take that risk, that’s choosing to be tortured rather than end this journey and start the next one.”

In his letter to his two adult children, who appear in the programme, he wrote: “This is a journey I must make. At the same time I hope this is not the cause of major distress to my dear sweet wife, who will have the greatest loss, as we have been together for 37 years in the greatest intimacy.”

John Beyer of Mediawatch-UK said: “I’m not sure whether the moment of death is something for television, but the real concern is whether this is influencing the public in a way that it shouldn’t be.”

Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has received a handful of complaints already, but does not take action on programmes until after their transmission.

Mr Zaritsky told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: “I think it would be less than honest if we were to do a film about the process of assisted suicide and not actually be able to see the ultimate, you know, act as it were. Otherwise we’d be left open to charges the death was unpleasant, or cruel or wasn’t even done willingly.” Debate rages

THE deaths of Craig Ewert and Daniel James have reignited a heated debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Although suicide is no longer a crime in England and Wales, aiding and abetting suicide is a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Veteran MSP Margo MacDonald who has Parkinson’s Disease has also launched a campaign to make assisted suicide legal in Scotland.

The calls for a change in the law have been marked by high-profile legal bids and a steady stream of publicity about British citizens who have travelled to Dignitas, the Swiss clinic, to die.

Dignitas was founded in 1998 and takes advantage of Switzerland’s liberal laws on assisted suicide which suggest that a person can be prosecuted only if they are acting out of self-interest.

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