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Sir Terry Pratchett suicide film prompts 'bias' claims

14 June 11 15:57
Sir Terry Pratchett

A BBC film on assisted suicide was "biased", critics have said.

Care Not Killing campaigners said Choosing to Die, which shows a British man with motor neurone disease dying, was "pro-assisted suicide propaganda loosely dressed up as a documentary".

And the ex-Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir Ali, said it "glorified suicide".

The BBC denied Sir Terry Pratchett's film was biased, saying it was "about one person's experience" and would help viewers make up "their own minds".

The programme showed Peter Smedley, a 71-year-old hotelier, travelling from his home in Guernsey to Switzerland and taking a lethal dose of barbiturates given to him by the Dignitas organisation.

Author Sir Terry, who has Alzheimer's disease, made the film to establish whether he would be able to die at a time and in a way he wanted.

The film prompted Alistair Thompson, a spokesman for the Care Not Killing pressure group, to say: "This is pro-assisted suicide propaganda loosely dressed up as a documentary."

Campaigners claim it is the fifth programme on the subject produced by the BBC in three years presented by a pro-euthanasia campaigner or sympathiser.

"The evidence is that the more you portray this, the more suicides you will have," said Mr Thompson.

He added: "The BBC is funded in a different way to other media and has a responsibility to give a balanced programme."

The Bishop of Exeter, the Right Reverend Michael Langrish, said he wanted to see "much more emphasis put on supporting people in living, than assisting them in dying".

He said: "The law still enshrines that sense of the intrinsic value of life. But the law ultimately is not there to constrain individual choice. It's there to constrain third party action and complicity in another person's death.

"That remains illegal. There may be ameliorating circumstances that can be taken into account. But the law remains clear and is there to protect the vulnerable."

'Balanced discussion' opportunity

And these sentiments were echoed by The Right Reverend Michael Nazir Ali who told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the documentary made assisted suicide look heroic.

He said: "I thought that the BBC had passed up an opportunity for a fair and balanced discussion. This was a biased contribution.

"It glorified suicide and indeed assisted suicide."

But the BBC rejected the claims of bias.

"It is giving people the chance to make their own minds up on the issue," said a spokeswoman.

The broadcaster added: "The aim of the programme was to create discussion and this is clearly a subject that resonates."

Sanctity of life

The BBC also denied the screening could lead to copycat suicides.

Sir Terry said seeing what Dignitas did had not changed his mind.

"I believe it should be possible for someone stricken with a serious and ultimately fatal illness to choose to die peacefully with medical help, rather than suffer," he told BBC's Newsnight.

When asked about the sanctity of life, Sir Terry responded: "What about the dignity of life? Lack of dignity would be enough for some people to kill themselves."

He added that he believed the right to an assisted suicide should extend to anyone over the age of consent.

The documentary, Choosing to Die, and the debate on BBC's Newsnight are both available to watch on BBC's iPlayer.

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