Thursday 18 January 2018

BBC accused of being 'cheerleader to suicide' after decision to air a businessman taking his own life at Swiss clinic

Simon Binner and his wife Debbie
Simon Binner and his wife Debbie

Patrick Foster

The BBC has been accused of acting as a “cheerleader for suicide” after announcing that it is to air scenes showing a British businessman taking his own life at a Swiss suicide clinic.

The corporation said yesterday that it will screen a 90-minute documentary following the declining health of Simon Binner, a Cambridge graduate who suffered from motor neurone disease, and his eventual decision to kill himself, on October 19 last year.

Mr Binner, who was diagnosed with the degenerative disease in January 2015, made headlines after he announced on LinkedIn that he planned to end his life at the Eternal Spirit clinic, in Basel.

A preview version of the deeply moving BBC documentary, which will air on February 10, shows the 57-year-old lying on a bed in the Swiss clinic, before opening a valve that allows a powerful sedative to enter his veins. While the moment of dying is not shown, there is a fleeting glimpse of Mr Binner’s dead body, as his friends and family sit weeping. The camera then cuts to the lid of his coffin being screwed down.

The corporation says that the film, which reveals that Mr Binner had at one stage tried to hang himself, is a “sensitive observational documentary following one family’s experience of assisted death”.

But opponents of assisted dying said the broadcaster was acting as “a cheerleader for suicide”. Alistair Thompson, a spokesman for Care Not Killing, said: “We are deeply disturbed by this. This has the capacity to encourage others to take their own lives.”

The film is not the first time the BBC has shown assisted suicide. In 2011, the corporation aired a documentary, presented by Terry Pratchett, the late author, that showed another British motor neurone disease sufferer dying at Dignitas, the famous Swiss clinic.

The forthcoming film examines both sides of the assisted dying debate, with Mr Binner’s wife, Debbie, telling the camera at one stage that she does not believe that her husband is doing the right thing in seeking to end his life - although she later changes her mind.

The company director, from Purley, Surrey, initially aimed to kill himself on November 2, his 58th birthday, but brought his trip to Switzerland forward after his condition worsened.

In the moments before his death, Mr Binney, who had lost the power of speech, plays his wife a recording of a voice actor reading a message, speaking of his love for her.

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