Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Wife defends suicide documentary

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Craig Ewert explains his decision in a clip from the Sky Real Lives programme

The wife of a man whose assisted suicide was filmed for television has defended a programme about his death.

Motor neurone disease sufferer Craig Ewert, 59, from Harrogate, died in Switzerland, having been helped by the controversial charity Dignitas.

The Sky TV programme about Mr Ewert has been branded a "reality TV" stunt.

But Mary Ewert told the Independent newspaper it would help people "face their fears" about death. Sky has also defended the programme.

Dr Peter Saunders, director of the campaign group Care Not Killing, said the show was a "cynical attempt to boost television ratings".

Lady Finlay, a professor of palliative care, said: "This programme is broadcasting something which is very private, which is someone dying and which is illegal in this country.

"I think it also perpetuates a myth that, somehow, to have a good death you have to end your own life and that is just completely untrue."

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American father-of-two Mr Ewert died in September 2006 after drinking a mixture of sedatives and using his teeth to turn off his ventilator.

The former academic allowed his death to be filmed for a documentary, Right to Die?, made by Oscar-winning director John Zaritsky, which is due to be shown on Sky Real Lives later.

His film shows Mr Ewert outlining his options as "death, or suffering and death".

Before his death, Mr Ewert said: "I'd like to continue.

"The thing is that I really can't.

"When you are completely paralysed, can't talk, can't walk, can't move your eyes, how do you let someone know that you are suffering?"

In a letter he wrote to his two adult children, who feature in the programme, he said: "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."

'Taboo'

Prime Minister Gordon Brown told parliament: "These are very difficult issues and we should all remember that at the heart of any single individual case are families and people in very difficult circumstances who have to make for themselves very difficult choices, none of us, none of us would want to go through that."

But he added: "On specifically the programme itself, I think it's very important that these issues are dealt with sensitively and without sensationalism.

"I hope broadcasters remember that they have a wider duty to the general public and of course it will be matter for the television watchdogs when the broadcast is shown."

Writing in the Independent, Mrs Ewert said: "For Craig, my husband, allowing the cameras to film his last moments in Zurich was about facing the end honestly.

"This wasn't a film about him personally. 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."

Daniel James

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 that the death was unpleasant, or cruel or wasn't even done willingly.

"And by putting it out there in its entirety, people can judge for themselves."

Barbara Gibbon, Head of Sky Real Lives, said: "This is an issue that more and more people are confronting and this documentary is an informative, articulate and educated insight into the decisions some people have to make.

"I think it's important that TV broadcasters, and particularly Sky Real Lives, can stimulate debate about this issue through powerful, individual and engaging stories and give this subject a wider airing."

Public interest

Media regulator Ofcom said it did not act on any programmes until after they had been transmitted.

A spokesman said: "All UK broadcasters must adhere to the Broadcasting Code which sets standards for the content of TV programmes.

"The code contains clear rules about the portrayal of self-harm and suicide in order to protect people from harm.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Life is precious but I also believe that if this is shown, hopefully it will start an informed debate
Lynda, Edinburgh

"We would look at the programme and assess it against the code to see whether we need to take it further."

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.

There have been no prosecutions so far of relatives of more than 100 UK citizens who have gone to the Dignitas clinic.

On Tuesday, the Director of Public Prosecutions ruled that prosecuting the parents of a 23-year-old Worcester man who killed himself in a Dignitas clinic was "not in the public interest".

Paralysed rugby player Daniel James died in Switzerland in September. Julie and Mark James travelled to the clinic with their son.

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SEE ALSO
No charges over assisted suicide
09 Dec 08 |  Hereford/Worcs
Bid for assisted dying law change
11 Nov 08 |  Oxfordshire

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Deutsche Welle TV Suicide Shines Light on Thorny Euthanasia Question - 2 hrs ago
Luton News Controversy over TV death - 2 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Father tells of son's dying moments - 2 hrs ago
Boston GlobeSuicide on TV condemned in Britain - 5 hrs ago
Boston GlobeAssisted suicide creates stir in Britain - 5 hrs ago
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