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December 10, 2008updated 13 Dec 2008 6:15pm

Should Sky broadcast documentary on assisted suicide?

By martinabooth

News that Sky is preparing to broadcast a documentary tonight that includes footage of a man’s assisted suicide at a Swiss clinic has drawn conflicting coverage in today’s papers.

Craig Ewert, a 59-year-old retired university professor with motor neurone disease, will be seen drinking a lethal dose of barbiturates before turning off his ventilator with a mouth-operated switch in tonight’s “Right to Die” documentary on Sky Real Lives.

In the Mirror, Paul Routledge says it is ‘a television version of public hangings,’adding that ‘Sky TV is chasing ratings, not a deeper understanding of why people take their own life”.

Sue Carroll supports the programme, believing ‘it’s raw, it’s painful, but gets to the heart of the subject society has been far too scared to discuss openly”.

Miriam Stoppard is ‘repelled’by the show: ‘My gut reaction is that this is voyeuristic, ghoulish TV which treats death like entertainment.’

However, she added that the programme ‘highlights an important issue – the subject of assisted suicide for terminally-ill people.”

In The Independent, Ewert is quoted as saying that he believed ‘broadcasting his last moments would be ‘educative’.”

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The film’s producer, Terence McKeown, says there was ‘a great deal of value in de-mystifying this suicide process… If people want to attack it, they should at least know what they are attacking.”

In the Daily Mail, Dominica Roberts of the Pro-Life Alliance says it is ‘sad and dangerous to show this kind of thing on TV”.

Dr Peter Saunders calls it ‘macabre death voyeurism” in The Guardian, which is part of a ‘calculated campaign to get the issue [of assisted suicide] back before parliament.”

Defending the programme, Barbara Gibbon, head of Sky Real Lives, said: “It’s important that broadcasters give this controversial subject a wider airing.”

Sam Wollaston, the Guardian’s TV reviewer, says that the ‘observational film is a sober and clear-headed look’at how Ewert reached his decision to commit suicide.

In the Evening Standard, a spokeswoman for anti-euthanasia group Care Not Killing says: ‘It is regrettable that Sky is broadcasting this as we do not believe that assisted suicide should be legal in the UK.”

The group also told the Daily Express that ‘the danger with documentaries like this is that they can portray assisted suicide in a positive light”.

Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom stipulates in its broadcasting code that ‘methods of suicide and self-harm must not be included in programmes except where they are editorially justified and are also justified by the context”.

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