Author defends controversial assisted suicide film | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.06.2011
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Author defends controversial assisted suicide film

Author Terry Pratchett has defended a documentary he made with the BBC which showed a man dying at an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland. Anti-euthanasia campaigners fear the film could prompt copycat suicides.

Bottle of pills and a glass of water inside of a room at the Dignitas clinic

The film showed a man dying at the Dignitas clinic

A documentary by British author Terry Pratchett which showed the assisted suicide of a man with motor neurone disease has prompted concerns from anti-euthanasia campaigners.

Fantasy writer Pratchett, who has Alzheimer's disease, said Tuesday that he took part in the documentary because he was "appalled at the current situation" regarding the illegality of assisted dying in the UK. Pratchett has become a vocal campaigner for the subject of assisted suicide since he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's in 2008.

The BBC film "Choosing to Die" featured the assisted suicide of 71-year-old Peter Smedley, who travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end his life.

Sir Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is the author of the best-selling 'Discworld' fantasy novels

Smedley suffered from motor neurone disease and in the documentary he told Pratchett that he regarded Dignitas as "a way out" and a way "to be free of this affliction."

"Peter wanted to show the world what was happening and why he was doing it," Pratchett told the BBC.

The programme followed Smedley to Switzerland, where he drank a fatal dose of barbiturates and died holding his wife's hand.

Possible risk of copycat suicides

The BBC documentary has prompted disapproval from anti-euthanasia campaigners and disability rights groups.

Dr Peter Saunders from the Care Not Killing Alliance said he was "very disappointed" with the documentary.

"We saw [the film] as a seriously misleading, one-sided and unbalanced piece of propaganda, masquerading as a documentary," Saunders said.

He said "Choosing to Die" breached all international guidelines on the portrayal of suicide and "could lead to copycat suicide phenomenon."

Dignitas logo

The Swiss clinic Dignitas has helped over 1000 people to die

Saunders said the current laws against assisted suicide in Britain protect the vulnerable, who may be disabled or suffering from depression.

Campaign for change

The BBC has denied any bias on the issue and said the programme gave people the chance to make up their own minds.

Many Britons, along with Sir Terry Pratchett, want to see a change in the law so that UK could follow the examples of Switzerland and the US states of Washington and Oregon, where medical help can be sought to end a life.

James Harris from the campaign group Dignity in Dying praised the film for "bringing a very difficult debate into people's front rooms."

Harris said the documentary highlighted a problem with the current UK law, in that people are going abroad to die, and are "going too early because they're going while they can physically make the trip."

Under British law, assisted suicide can be punished with a jail term of up to 14 years, and several court cases have highlighted the issue in which people have helped loved ones to die.

Author: Catherine Drew, London / cb
Editor: Susan Houlton

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