December 10, 2008 / 11:59 AM / 10 years ago

Britain's Sky TV criticized for assisted death film

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Sky television was criticized on Wednesday for plans to screen the final moments of a terminally-ill man who chose to commit suicide.

The film of 59-year-old Craig Ewert’s death in 2006 in a clinic in Switzerland is part of a Right to Die documentary made by Canadian filmmaker John Zaritsky and the first time British television has shown someone committing assisted suicide.

“If I don’t go through with it, my choice is essentially to suffer, to inflict suffering on my family, and then die,” Ewert says in the film, parts of which were shown on Sky News.

Sky was due to broadcast the full documentary at 2100 GMT.

With his wife Mary at his side, Ewert, who was partially paralyzed by motor-neurone disease, is shown at the Dignitas suicide clinic in Zurich drinking a mixture of sedatives and turning off his own ventilator.

Anti-euthanasia campaigners said the broadcast was irresponsible “euthanasia voyeurism” which would create a false impression of a growing demand for assisted suicide in Britain.

“This will only intensify the pressure felt by such people, whether real or imagined, to contemplate taking their lives for fear of being a burden upon loved ones, carers or a society that is short of resources,” said campaign group Care Not Killing, an alliance of around 50 concerned organizations.

Assisted suicide has been allowed in Switzerland since the 1940s if performed by a non-physician who has no vested interest in the death. Both Dignitas, and another suicide clinic there called Exit, use lethal drugs prescribed by a physician to end the lives of those who seek their help.

Asked in parliament about the broadcast, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it highlighted “very difficult issues.”

“I believe that it is necessary to ensure that there is never a case in the country where a sick or elderly person feels under pressure to agree to an assisted death,” he said. “That is why I have always opposed legislation for assisted deaths.”

But writing in The Independent newspaper, Ewert’s wife said her husband — an American-born university professor who lived in Yorkshire, northern England — had wanted his death to be shown to help allay peoples’ fears about death.

“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,” Mary Ewert wrote.

“He wanted to remove a veil so that people could see how comfortably someone could die who — without this option of assisted suicide — maybe would have had a very painful death.”

The film’s Oscar-winning director Zaritsky told BBC radio he felt it was important to show the full process. Anything else, he said, would have given a “less than honest” view open “to charges that the death was unpleasant or cruel.”

“By putting it out there in its entirety, people can judge for themselves,” he said.

According to figures released last month, between 2001 and 2004, 91 percent of those who died with help from Dignitas were foreigners, mostly from Germany, France and Britain.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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