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The BBC is drip-feeding assisted dying propaganda into our living rooms

Sir Terry’s message last night was relentless: ‘why can’t we be allowed to die like this in Britain?’

By on Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Sir Terry Pratchett, a campaigner for assisted dying, has early onset Alzheimer's (PA photo)

Sir Terry Pratchett, a campaigner for assisted dying, has early onset Alzheimer's (PA photo)

Not having a TV has its advantages. It means that when you do watch a programme you are not immunised from its effects by long usage of the media. It still has the capacity to shock. Thus it was that I went next door to my mother’s, to watch Sir Terry Pratchett on BBC Two last night at 9pm tell us all yet again (you can’t seem to open a newspaper these days without seeing his face and hearing his views on the subject) that we should have the right to assisted suicide in this country.

My mother, aged 87, was having none of this. While I joined all the other thousands of voyeurs up and down the country to watch from the safety of our armchairs a man actually die on screen, she resolutely held up her copy of the Daily Telegraph so as to block out the telly and fortified herself with a large whisky and a packet of cigarettes. From then on, all I heard from her was the occasional “Disgraceful!”

Actually I agree with her – and it was voyeuristic in the extreme. Would I have chosen to watch Sir Terry simply host a chat show about euthanasia? No, of course not. But here was the full, compelling, visual creepiness: the soft muzak in the background, swelling at appropriate moments, the slow, respectful narrative and the very civilised demeanour of the gentleman about to drink the poison – a millionaire businessman called Peter Smedley. He described dying by motor neurone disease in his best Biggles manner as “a beastly undignified business”; his wife chimed in, saying (as people do) “I wouldn’t put my dog or my cat through such an undignified ending.” They both exemplified throughout the best behaviour of tactful, brave, secular Britain – as shown (by implication) on the tactful, brave, secular BBC.

Behind the programme was the relentless, drip drip message: Sir Terry, with his beard, black hat and earnest expression looking like the original gnome of Zurich, and who himself has early onset Alzheimer’s, constantly reminding the viewer, “This is somebody’s decision”, “Peter has made his choice” and asking pointedly, “Who owns your life?” (more swelling chords at this point.)

Having made this point several times, the related message was drip-fed to viewers: why can’t we be allowed to die like this in dear old Britain, in our own comfy armchairs, surrounded by loving relations, rather than the nuisance of slumping on an anonymous sofa in an industrial estate in Zurich (you’re not allowed to do “it” in residential areas, apparently) and helped by a rather sinister-looking blonde “escort”; death by Dignitas.

At this stage of the macabre docudrama, I wanted Peter Smedley to hurl the deadly potion in the escort’s face and beg his wife to take him home and nurse him (as she had wanted to do). He didn’t. Nor was the viewer told if the two local doctors required to assess the Dignitas clients ever rejected a would-be suicide as unsuitable. Given the overall fee of £10,000 and their regular cut for their services, I think this is unlikely. Terry tells the viewer, “One day there will be a protocol about this”. We watch him and the blonde Valkyrie hug each other as he tells her: “Can I say I was extremely impressed by how it was done.” He assures the viewer that it was “an extremely peaceful way to die” and that he wants to “stay around as long as possible to see assisted dying made possible in the UK”.

This was consummate propaganda on the part of the BBC. The quick visit to a hospice, and the few words allowed to a carer there, did not remotely present the alternative case. The programme was weighted entirely on the seemingly reasonable and unanswerable notion that just as we have choice in other areas of our lives, we should have the choice to die when and how we want (and not have to pay £10,000 for the privilege). The only time “God” was given a faint mention in the entire programme was an unfunny joke made by Ludwig Minelli, the millionaire founder of Dignitas; he likes to offer clients a selection of teas before they drink the poison, describing himself as a “teaologian” – “the only theology I accept.” Ha ha.

“Teaology” is probably the Beeb’s religion too. Where was impartiality here? The BBC defends itself by saying it will make other programmes showing an alternative point of view at a later date. Christian programme-makers need to push for this urgently; otherwise the gnomes of Zurich will have won. As my mother said, it was “disgraceful”.

  • GFFM

    This horror story reminds me of the film Soylent Green, set in 2022, and filmed in that nefarious year, 1973. In it, the government has set up “death centers” where people go to die “with dignity.” Why is it that Brits do not speak out?  Bishops, priests and all Christians of authentic faith should be underscoring the thanatos syndrome behind this horrifically banal display. Like the UK, American culture is in somewhat lousy shape, but I can assure you, if something like this were aired, a massive outcry would take place, especially in the Middle West of the country. 

  • Jeannine

    This is absolutely horrible! It’s so horrible that YouTube banned this BBC episode on its website. 

    What I find amazing with these assisted suicides is that no attention is given to their mental health before the evil deed is carried out nor to examine beforehand if the person is truly terminally ill. Kevorkian assisted in these suicides where over half were not terminally ill.(

    I have told my husband (he’ll probably outlive me) that I will take care of him when he enters his final natural stages of living in this world in the very far future. Why? I love him & I don’t want him to be or feel alone. He let out a small sigh of relief. I believe that is why people opt for assisted suicide since many feel alone &/or not loved. If true, what a very sad place this world has become!

  • Emma

    We must pray for these people are very mis-led and their souls are critically at stake!! They are urgently in need of God’s mercy and we need to pray that they repented before they died, as it’s very worrying otherwise. We need to fight back and stop people who are tempted to have assisted suicide. These are people who are in real need of Jesus’s mercy. Why aren’t our bishops speaking out against all this horror? We need to warn others and do what ever is possible to change hearts- pray for the conversion of our country.

  • Possum

    A similar subject is being dealt with on ITV – in the soap opera, Emmerdale. It sent an uncomfortable, below-zero shiver down my spine and it made my stomach retch. The storyline involved a tetraplegic who wanted to end his life, despite being given the very best of love, care, compassion from his family and friends. His mother didn’t do it but the character’s gay lover gave him the fatal overdose. Now, the village is divided.

    In Tuesday’s episode, the mother goes to the Church of England vicar to arrange funeral arrangements. The vicar makes his position clear – he did not agree with what was done to her son and to conduct the funeral would, for him, send out the message that he condoned it. The mother would not accept his point of view with grace … the exact opposite happened.

    Had not the vicar his right or freedom to express his view? Or us?

    No, I did not watch the Terry Pratchett propaganda on BBC 2. I’m personally sick and tired of these rich, patronising, condescending, middle-class no marks like Stephen Fry, Dawkins and their ilk being given air-time with their dangerous views on ANY TV CHANNEL!

    Terry Pratchett should stick to his fantasy novels and keep his views there!

  • Jeannine

    ” The storyline involved a tetraplegic who wanted to end his life, despite being given the very best of love, care, compassion from his family and friends. His mother didn’t do it but the character’s gay lover gave him the fatal overdose. ”

    Funny thing about these writers is that they think this is probably what would happen in real life: people still going through with assisted suicide even though they are well loved & taken cared of. There is documentation to the contrary. The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne & Missionaries of Charity through their works are refuting all this nonsense.

  • Mikecat10421

    “Why is it that Brits do not speak out?” God knows. Because nothing matters enough to make a fuss about ? The English are not very religious anyway, and “not rocking the boat”, “not making a scene”, is part of the national character. So is being pragmatic, and not thinking issues through. So is not wanting to intrude. Put all that together, and sloth about vitally important moral issues is all too likely. The people who will have an effect, are not the inert majority, but the zealous few who know & see what they are trying to achieve, & why, & are prepared to take the trouble to achieve it. Those are the people who are going to make a change – the rest will just go along  with whatever is usual, whether that “usual” is atheism, Islam, or anything else.

    I wish the C of E would get nasty about these issues; a bit of bloody-mindedness from an Established Church unambiguously and fearlessly speaking as it should – and becoming hated, if need be, for its fidelity – might do it a power of good. Thank God for the Evangelicals – *they* don’t shut up, & they have backbone.

  • Anonymous

    What has “God” got to do with it?

  • Ratbag

    Agreed.  There’s a lot of manipulation and emotional blackmail in the lead up to the dastardly deed on screen. I’ll bet that it would be the case in real life. Do they consider the consequences of their chilling request and how it will affect the family and wider community? Clearly not.

    Religious orders, like the Dominican Sisters and the Missionaries of Charity indeed knock this euthanasia rubbish into a blackhead. With the MCs, people with barely anything material are given love and affection right up to the end.

    £10,000 fee for being ‘put to sleep’? More money than sense…

  • Possum

    TreenonPoet…well, duh?! If you wanted the Daily Atheist, you’ve come to the wrong place. LOLLOLOLOL!

    What a muppet!

    God give life…God alone takes life.

    For humans to take another life is called… er… don’t tell me, don’t tell me…killing…murder. One of the 10 Commandments of Almighty God – given to Moses on Mount Sinai – is…. THOU SHALT NOT KILL.


  • Ratbag

    Roman Catholics could do with re-igniting those ‘tongues of fire’ about these issues…

  • Anonymous

    So if someone is dying, one should not interfere – even to attempt to prolong life?

  • In Our Times

    Good point. It is a fact that in evolving cancer treatments for example, the ‘cure’ can kill much more quickly than the actual illness. Also, decisions are made to keep people in ‘persistent vegetative states’ alive artificially, in case they wake up. To me this feels wrong also. There are many grey areas & Bioethics is a minefield.

    Needless to say, I watched this very sad documentary & I woke up in the night feeling still very disturbed by it. Nothing to do with God per say, in the ancient sense of the word.

  • Jeannine

    No one wants to prolong a dying life beyond what is natural. A great example of this occurred when actress Natasha Richardson had the non-recuperative head injury & left her in a permanent coma. She was on a ventilator, an extraordinary means because it did not improve her condition, & died quietly in her sleep (She was in a coma.) soon after when taken off the machines. She was not starved to death like my Alzheimer-diseased, semi-conscious aunt who was denied liquids & food by being disconnected from her feeding tube. Natasha had a peaceful death & I believe the decision to take her off the ventilator was the correct one. I also believe the Church would agree.

    On the other hand the decision to deny my aunt sustenance, an immoral action, because her quality of life did not meet the decision-makers definition, IMO is wrong. She was not on the ventilator, an extraordinary means, although some people might think a feeding tube is extraordinary means. Denying food to any person is murder especially knowing how painful the death is. Narcotic medicine is given to ease the convulsions & silence the agonizing sounds, as one is dying over a period of days. To me that is not natural. 

  • Jeannine

    An update: Natasha Richardson was brain dead when they removed her from the ventilator.

  • Anonymous

    I am sorry that your aunt suffered in that way.

    I think I would agree with your assessment of those two cases, assuming no lucid contribution from your aunt, though ‘murder’ does not seem to be the right word somehow.

    Behind my point was that if a terminal illness, such as Alzheimer’s, is considered to be an act of God, then who are we to presume to influence its course, even in its early stages? If we do intervene (and I think we should), then we might be accused of ‘playing God’. If you argue that God is working through the interveners, then the same could be said of those assisting suicide. Better not to bring God into it, as in Terry Pratchett’s program. This omission is not bias, but the avoidance of an irrelevant diversion.

    It is rare for me to praise the BBC on the presentation of ethical issues. When there is an interesting ethical dilemma in the news, the BBC usually wheel in a cleric for comment, and the chance of a rational analysis of the situation is lost. I am not so much interested in what the official view is in Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, or whatever, as to what the real issues are and how we might weigh them. At present, it sometimes seems callous to even consider certain issues, but they are no less real.

  • Nat_ons

    This death is not ‘assisted dying’, it is medically promoted killing – or worse. All the best hospices truly assist with dying or rather with living to the full until death, and even then in comfort, dignity and - in so far as this is possible - serenity. Even the least well attuned doctors and nurses and assistants may do their best to aid those who are dying to do so without unnecessary fuss and intrusion, only the worst of medical care leaves the human soul with no viable alternative than a desire to be put out of its misery.

    Sadly, the worst also happens to be by far the most commonly available option for the vast majority of Western control-freaked individuals. Indeed, the mere idea that death might somehow be a communal event, not simply an individual dying, seems to strike at the very notion of one’s enjoyment of life and thus one’s choice of death. That an Epicurean character of, or the Stoic natural right to, a self-controlled death fits well into such hyper-individualised paganism should concern Christians, of course; not because it is immoral, clearly it is not, but because it falls short of the Christian understanding of dignity in our human nature (and the rights and wrongs attached to this): God’s image.

    Given this, speaking to the exponents of the modern world’s (godless or god-filled) paganism as if they would accept that they are what they seem to be - naughty children who ought to know better - merely makes them act all the more infantile and naughtily. Hence the ‘Why? But why? Yes, but why?’ type of media-friendly, dramatically charged, questioning issued forth from the firmly entrenched ‘You can’t tell me what to do’ mindset. As with contraception and legal abortion, a self-controlled death seems more than reasonable to a Christless society, and as with those moral issues there may prove to be many Christians who will seek to follow the world’s way rather than lead souls out of its grasp; so Catholic Orthodoxy, rather than relying of an innate good sense in the rule of this world, must prepare to resist yet another (all but inevitable) assault, therefore it must marshall its resources to at least mitigate the impact on the faithful (and faithless), and do all in its power to show the power of the Cross in the life of its discipleship – whether or not the this seems, once more, as foolishness to the world.

    Anyone hoping to set out ‘the Cross of Christ’ as an apt ideal before the ‘self-controlled-environment’ notions of the world is on a collision course not simply standing before an up hill struggle. Not because death often involves suffering, for even self-planned-killing can involve this; rather, because facing suffering requires discipline, obedience and selflessness – none of which virtues will be attractive to immediate self-gratification. Still, showing that one can be graced with a happy death, even one of controlled and minimised suffering, may attract even the dedicatedly self-centred .. the task is for us to show a Happy Death is there for the taking: at one with God’s image, faithful to the Cross, and freely offered (to the sinner not only the saints).

    God bless, Nat.

    PS I wonder how many Catholics are encourage to prepare for a ‘happy death’ or even hear the term used in Catholic circles today? To a world so obessessed with being ‘happy’ and wanting a death that is happy, it seems to be anathema for Catholic teachers/ preachers! Another on the long list of ‘the Catholic way of life’ that was slaughtered on the worldly altar of the now, the relevant, the modern; and another that lies at the feet of the episcopy to restore .. if the current oversight of our souls actually cares for the Last Things.

  • Sean McCarney

    The really irritating thing is that we have no choice as licence payers but to pay for the BBC to put out this pernicious propoganda.

  • Anonymous

    If the BBC had broadcast a documentary about palliative care and had omitted to mention the ‘alternative’ of suicide, would you consider that to be propaganda?

    Did you consider the BBC’s coverage of the UK papal visit and their lack of reporting on the protests against the visit to be propaganda?

    Do you consider Radio 4′s forty-year refusal to allow a non-religious voice on Thought For The Day to be propaganda?

    If not, why not?

  • Anonymous

    Except when of course God orders death. As when priests are not listened to:

    Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the LORD your God must be put to death.  Such evil must be purged from Israel.  (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)

    As when someone hits their parents: 

    Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death.  (Exodus 21:15 NAB)

    Or when a son teaches others of his belief in another religion, he must be killed by his parents:

    If a man still prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall say to him, “You shall not live, because you have spoken a lie in the name of the Lord.”  When he prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall thrust him through.  (Zechariah 13:3 NAB)

  • GFFM

     Completely relativist drivel here. As if living with a serious illness and taking palliative care is the moral equivalent of taking one’s life. You need fundamental ethics. No wait. If you believe this it’s too late.

    The rest of your arguments simply aren’t worth responding to.

  • Anonymous

    And there’ll be another one along in a minute.

    BBC Radio June 21 File on 4 Should it be made simpler to end the life of patients in a vegetative state? A Living Death ……..examines calls for a reform of the process to end the life of such patients where their families believe their loved one would no longer wish to be alive.
    The programme reveals how some hospitals appear unaware of the law and hears how the process can be lengthy and costly, putting families under further strain.A number of members of the House of Lords have already made their views clear on the BBC’s “propaganda”. Expect the Catholic bishops’ comments to be along in a .. . . erm……….

  • Anonymous

    I was writing about what might constitute propaganda, not about what might or might not be moral. It would not bother me if a documentary about palliative care made no mention at all of suicide, providing that the programme did not imply that suicide was not an option. I certainly do not think that suicide is the moral equivalent of palliative care.

    But since you raise it, I would say that if the suicide occurs within certain constraints, it can be by far the most moral choice (based on real-world issues).

    It seems that you would rather not consider the issues, but instead perpetuate an out-dated set of simplistic rules, no matter what the consequences may be. To me, that is not a moral stance.

  • jng

    Palliative care is about treatment.  It is stretching it a bit to suggest that it is an alternative to suicide as you seem to suggest in your reply to GFFM.  There is, also, an element of inconsistency in your apparent assumption that anyone who takes an opposing view to you is not considering the issues, while no issue is defined by you.
    To my mind which, no doubt, is in thrall to “an outdated set of simplistic rules” the issue, on the secular ground you clearly prefer, is whether or not it is damaging to society as a whole to allow individuals to appoint another to terminate their lives.  This is a question which relates to all of the rights we assume as none of them can be justified logically unless underpinned by an overiding value given to respect for human life.  Even something as apparently obvious as a right to property cannot be justified unless the life of the proprietor has some sort of precedence over his status as an owner.
    Making it legal for one person to kill another, with or without consent, must attack the respect for life principle at a very basic level and, therefore, all of our rights.
    The only justifications for this which I have heard appear to be based on a rather limited pleasure pain basis, where the wishes of the individual are supreme, and the effect on society as a whole are not even considered.  This approach can justify anything. 

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

    I agree that palliative care is not exactly an alternative to suicide, which is why I put the word between inverted commas in my earlier comment. I deliberately used the word ‘alternative’ because it is used by Francis Phillips and I hoped that this would hint at its misuse.

    The reason that I mentioned issues is that GFFM had accused me of relativism. My view (as stated elsewhere on the Catholic Herald site) is that in each situation requiring moral judgement one should attempt to weigh as many relevant factors as possible in the circumstances. This might give the impression of relativism, but for a given set of inputs, there can be only one valid set of conclusions, which is absolutist. (The conclusions will often have associated degrees of uncertainty.)

    I did not list issues, partly for brevity and partly because it can seem callous even to mention some of them. For example, the freeing of resources (doctors’ time, carers’ time, medical equipment, beds, medicines, food, etc.) is relevant. Those who say “any expenditure is worth it if it gives a patient one minute more of life” are not really being truthful. Wider issues relating to life on earth may be minor factors when a single patient is concerned, but become relevant when multiplied by the number of patients around the world. Factors relating to the suffering of the patient and of those close to the patient carry much more weight.

    What should carry zero weight are the supposed wishes of an imagined deity (unless they have independent merit). While “Thou shallt not kill” is a good rule of thumb, and probably sits neatly on a tablet, the Bible itself makes it clear that this commandment is subject to qualification.

    I agree that damage (or benefit) to society as a whole is a factor in determining the permissiblity of assisted suicide. I have to accept that it is difficult to frame laws that cover all eventualities adequately, but that is no reason not to try – especially when the legalisation of assisted suicide would make such a lot of difference to so many people’s lives, let alone deaths.

    Are not human rights (and animal rights) based on a respect for the quality of life rather than the length of life? Yes, lifeforms aware of mortality are generally (not always) happier when the threat of death is distant. Making it legal to assist in the suicide of someone who has chosen that route demonstrates a respect for the quality of their life. As you say, the effect on society as a whole must be taken into account, but why, in priciple, is this a problem?

  • jng

    Generally, I tend to take the approach that, once one has put forward an argument, one should leave it at that and let others chew over it how they wish, but your reply indicates a difference of approach which might be worth emphasizing.
    Quality of life, while not an irrelevance, is an aim or condition, not a basic principle and is, largely, subjective:  giving life an overriding value can be accepted as a basic principle as it is essential as a premise for logically justifying all rights, particularly if they are to be enshrined in law.  I have not come across any others but arguments depending on a pleasure pain philosophy are used.
    It is the case that this philosophy is applied to justify much of what is currently acceptable in current Western society but it cannot be a tenable principle as, logically, it can be used to justify anything any individual wants to do.  One does not have to have too wide a field of vision to see that this can have  socially damaging effects.
    I happen to believe that giving human life an absolute value is a more workable basis for society.  Once this is accepted, it is impossible to justify a subjectively applied rescinding of it to suit an individual’s wishes. 
    Or, in this case, the principle of the absolute value of human life must take precedence over an individual’s suffering:  particularly one’s own.  It must also take precedence over society’s wishes as, in fact, it did when capital punishment was abolished by a Parliament somewhat at odds with its electorate. 

  • watchdog

    sir, prattchette euthanasia is already legalised in case you did not know or do you, its called the liverpool so called care pathway. whos kidding who, it told you all about it in the mail, the telegraph,  and express, thats just three national    newspapers i know i think their will be others if you care to ask, if you wish to die jump off the highest building in england, its better than starved to death like the l c p .