BBC film of sick man taking his life sparks major row
Published 07/06/2011 | 05:00
THE BBC is at the centre of a storm of controversy over its decision to film a man's last moments at the Dignitas clinic in a documentary fronted by bestselling author Terry Pratchett.
In a five-minute sequence in the BBC2 programme, Pratchett witnesses Peter, a British man in his early 70s who has motor neurone disease, taking his own life at the Swiss clinic.
Last night the broadcaster was forced to defend its decision. The corporation's commissioning editor for documentaries Charlotte Moore said that she did not believe the "carefully edited but unflinching" scene could have been left out.
When Peter decides he is ready, he is seen drinking a liquid to prepare his stomach for what is to come while sitting at the kitchen table. Then, sitting on a sofa with his wife at his side gently rubbing his hand, he drinks a second liquid, after which he falls into a deep sleep and dies. Ms Moore said: "It is an extremely powerful and challenging scene -- raw yet moving -- but above all it is honest.
"Some people may question why we included this scene in the final cut. But in my view I don't see how we could omit it."
The documentary was commissioned to follow Pratchett on a journey to explore the realities of assisted death.
She said: "The greatest attachment he (Pratchett) formed was to Peter, and I felt it would be wrong to excise the time they spent together in Switzerland and the very process Peter went through to end his life. To gloss over Peter's final moments would be to do a disservice to Peter, to Terry and to the viewer. We have a responsibility to tell the story in its entirety."
The documentary is not the first time that someone has allowed their death to be filmed for TV -- Sky previously showed the death of another motor neurone sufferer, Craig Ewert, at Dignitas. Pratchett, who was diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer's in 2008 and who describes himself as "a firm believer in assisted death", told the 'Radio Times' that he did not want to die at the clinic.
Pratchett, whose 'Discworld' series of books have sold millions of copies worldwide, favours the method legalised in the US state of Oregon, where "if the doctors agree that you are, as it were, a candidate, they give you the magic potion and you can take it away and keep it at home".
Witnessing the end of Peter's life brought the writer to tears.
Pratchett said Peter turned around and said "I'd like to thank you all" before drinking the liquid that would kill him. Pratchett added: "Here's the bit that blows your mind -- he can't remember the name of the sound man. Here is a courteous man thanking the people who have come with him to be there and he's now embarrassed, at the point of death, because he can't remember the sound man's name. The word 'tough' can't cover it."
'Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die' will be broadcast on Monday, June 13, on BBC2 at 9pm.