Page last updated at 21:05 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

TV company defends suicide film


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

The makers of a documentary on assisted suicide have defended their decision to film a man at the moment of his death.

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

Sky Television said its film gave an "educated insight into the decisions some people have to make".

However, campaign group Care Not Killing said the show was a "cynical attempt to boost television ratings".

Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the Commons he was personally opposed to assisted suicide.

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."

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 was shown on Sky Real Lives on Wednesday night.

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 can stimulate debate about this issue through powerful, individual and engaging stories and give this subject a wider airing."

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

He said: "The danger is that we start to believe in a story that there is such a thing as a life not worth living."

Daniel James

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."

But Mr Ewert's wife, Mary, defended the programme, saying it was about "facing the end of life honestly".

The prime minister conceded that the debate involved "very difficult issues".

He said: "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.

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

"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."

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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