Why Public Safety could be jeopardised by a change to the law on euthanasia:
And how the public debate is being recklessly manipulated:
The BBC and Breach of WHO Guidelines
In their one-sided coverage of euthanasia and assisted dying, the BBC have failed to give a proper sense of balance to the debate about assisted dying, rarely mentioning the opposition of the BMA, Royal Colleges, the hospices and Disability Rights Organisations, or the care and attention which has been given to this issue in Parliament – and which, on three occasions, has led to the rejection of proposals to change the law, on grounds of public safety and ethics:
The House of Lords has had two full Select Committee enquiries to examine the current law. On the last occasion, the enquiry covered some 246 Hansard columns and two volumes of 744 pages and 116 pages respectively, 15 oral sessions, 48 groups or individuals giving evidence, with 88 witnesses giving written evidence, 2,460 questions asked and the committee receiving 14,000 letters. After consideration of all the issues raised, as on the previous occasion, proposals to change the law were rejected by a wide margin. When the last vote took place in the House of Commons the proposal was defeated by 91 votes to 236. The Scottish Parliament recently reached the same conclusion.
Contempt for due process and Parliament, and the obsessive pursuit of a driven agenda, funded by public money, has come to characterise the BBC’s treatment of this issue. Credible voices which dare to question what has become the latest touchstone issue for those who believe that personal autonomy and choice trump all other considerations are kept out of studio debates, Question Time, Any Questions and news bulletins – or presented as representing antediluvian or obscure positions. In publicly expressing their own support for assisted dying, anchormen and women, whose role is supposed to be to moderate studio discussions, forfeit the right to be taken seriously as impartial or objective.
There are few things more frightening than self proclaimed liberals masquerading as liberals but in reality behaving in ways which manipulate debate and attempt to propagandise public opinion. Nor are there many things more sickening than repugnant voyeurism, turning a person’s death into a form of prime time entertainment, or the battle for programme ratings trumping ethical considerations – and all dressed up in the name of a hollow compassion.
Where was any proper examination of the motives and practices of those who run euthanasia centres like Dignitas?
The cover of the latest issue of the BBC’s Radio Times claims that watching a man die in Switzerland is “5 minutes of television that will change our lives”. The sub editor who chose that caption perhaps failed to appreciate its irony: that the 5 minutes it took to change our lives, irredeemably ended another’s life. In this country 550,000 people die each year. Very rarely do any make the newspapers or the media. Why does one lethal cocktail – but not 549,999 deaths – warrant wall to wall campaigning coverage. Macmillan nurses, hospices and palliative care give the overwhelming majority in Britain a dignified death which does not involve commissioning doctors and nurses as patient killers. By all means agitate for improvement where the provision or practice isn’t good enough but let the BBC end this one sided and relentless campaign. We’re all in favour of dignity in dying – but we don’t need a doctor to kill us to achieve a good death.
Where, also, in their coverage is any analysis of the economic arguments that are now driving this debate, characterised by Lady Warnock’s remark that: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.” Perhaps it would make Broadcasting House uncomfortable to reveal this part of the debate.
Next week they will broadcast their next broadside, A Living Death. Then they are planning to give huge coverage to the conclusions of an “independent” Commission established by Lord Falconer and which has no known opponents of euthanasia amongst its membership. This will be another attempt to manipulate the argument and should be roundly denounced.
Those who are so determined to encourage people to end their lives should bear in mind the guidance given by the World Health Organisation. In 2000 they warned that coverage of the suicide issue should not involve celebrities or go into detail about the methods involved. They warn of the contagious effect and the risk posed to public safety by the sensationalising of this issue. If increasing numbers of copycat deaths now occur, especially amongst those who are depressed, then the programme makers, and those who authorise the transmission of such programmes, will bear a very heavy responsibility.
I have pasted below some direct quotes from the WHO (2000) document…
“Media play a significant role in today’s society by providing a very wide range of information in a variety of ways. They strongly influence community attitudes, beliefs and behaviour, and play a vital role in politics, economics and social practice. Because of that influence media can also play an active role in the prevention of suicide.”
“Suicide is perhaps the most tragic way of ending one’s life. The majority of people who consider suicide are ambivalent. They are not sure that they want to die. One of the many factors that may lead a vulnerable individual to suicide could be publicity about suicides in the media. How the media report on suicide cases can influence other suicides.”
“Television also influences suicidal behaviour. Philips (7) showed an increase in suicide up to 10 days after television news reports of cases of suicide. As in the printed media, highly publicized stories that appear in multiple programmes on multiple channels seem to carry the greatest impact – all the more so if they involve celebrities. However, there are conflicting reports
about the impact of fictional programmes: some show no effect, while others cause an increase in suicidal behaviour (8)
“Sensational coverage of suicides should be assiduously avoided, particularly when a celebrity is involved. The coverage should be minimized to the extent possible. Any mental health problem the celebrity may have had should also be acknowledged. Every effort should be made to avoid overstatement. Photographs of the deceased, of the method used and of the scene of the suicide are to be avoided. Front page headlines are never the ideal location for suicide reports.
Detailed descriptions of the method used and how the method was procured should be avoided. Research has shown that media coverage of suicide has a greater impact on the method of suicide adopted than the frequency of suicides. Certain locations – bridges, cliffs, tall buildings, railways, etc. – are traditionally associated with suicide and added publicity increases the risk that more people will use them.
Suicide should not be reported as unexplainable or in a simplistic way. Suicide is never the result of a single factor or event. It is usually caused by a complex interaction of many factors such as mental and physical illness, substance abuse, family disturbances, interpersonal conflicts and life stressors. Acknowledging that a variety of factors contributes to suicide would be helpful.
Suicide should not be depicted as a method of coping with personal problems such as bankruptcy, failure to pass an examination, or sexual abuse.
Reports should take account of the impact of suicide on families and other survivors in terms of both stigma and psychological suffering.
Glorifying suicide victims as martyrs and objects of public adulation may suggest to susceptible persons that their society honours suicidal behaviour. Instead, the emphasis should be on mourning the person’s death.”
Anyone who has ever experienced a suicide in their family, or among their circle of friends, knows how devastating are the effects of that death on those who remain behind. The five minutes involved in ending a life can have profound and unimagined implications. A distorted and tasteless piece of television theatre is no way to address these and the many other issues which are raised by euthanasia.