An upcoming BBC documentary, Choosing to Die, featuring Sir Terry Pratchett is due out later this year. Pratchett will discuss attitudes and the legal position across Europe and talk to terminally ill patients who want to end their lives at a time of their choosing, possibly with assistance from others.
There is huge support for legalising assisted dying in the UK (ComRes) (also see Times poll and YouGov and Angus Reid for figures in Scotland, where Margo MacDonald’s pro-reform bill was recently defeated anyway). If nothing else surely this level of support for reform mandates the license-payer funded BBC to do a bit of coverage on it. But Care Not Killing said: “The BBC is acting like a cheerleader for legalising assisted suicide.”
However, Sarah Wootton, chief executive of campaign group Dignity in Dying, warned: “I believe it is irresponsible not to be discussing this issue. People are taking desperate decisions at the end of their lives; travelling abroad to die or attempting to end their lives at home, often alone for fear of their loved ones facing prosecution.”
The BBC‘s commissioning editor for documentaries, Charlotte Moore, said: “Assisted death is an important topic of debate in the UK, and this is a chance for the BBC2 audience to follow Sir Terry as he wrestles with the difficult issues that many across Britain are also faced with. I hope this sparks a constructive debate that people across the spectrum of opinion can engage in.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail is alarmed (for a change) that “Britons are travelling in record numbers to kill themselves at the Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland”. These “record figures” are based on a tiny sample – rates at which it only takes a few people to add a significant percentage – and compares the last three years’ average with the previous six years’ average, indicating that right or wrong the change probably isn’t so fast.
The number of British suicides at the Zurich clinic has risen from an average of 14 a year between 2002 and 2007 to a total of 76 – about 25 a year – from 2008-2010.
Sir Patrick Stewart is the latest celebrity to back reform, becoming a patron of Dignity in Dying, alongside humanist Ian McEwan. Stewart said that choosing to die should be a human right:
Speaking publicly for the first time about his membership of Dignity in Dying, Stewart referred to a recent tragedy involving a friend, as well as his own diagnosis of having coronary heart disease five years ago. “I am reluctant to go into details. Enough to say this person was driven to an extreme situation of ending their own life in the most ghastly way,” he said of the friend. “There’s got to be an alternative when someone is suffering so badly and is ready to go.”
Asked if he believed that the choice of ending one’s life should be a human right, he replied: “yes”, adding: “Everything that medicine can do to keep somebody alive doesn’t automatically follow as the best option.”