THE last couple of months have seen a flurry of activity by those campaigning to change the law to allow the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
First was the tragic case of Geoff Whaley, who went to Dignitas, then a move by the Royal College of Physicians to adopt a neutral position despite just a quarter of doctors backing this, and finally the launch of a campaign to change the law in Scotland.
Worryingly, this apparently co-ordinated set of actions was cheered on the whole time by the licence fee-funded BBC. Home Editor Mark Easton’s initial report did not include any person or organisation putting the other side of this controversial argument.
Following up this partial coverage was Politics Live on BBC2, which invited Lord Falconer, a key ally of Tony Blair, who pressed for the Iraq War and a well-known campaigner for assisted suicide, to discuss the issue without inviting one of the many Parliamentarians who have argued in support of the current law. The only dissenting voice came from Bernard Jenkin, who voted against changing the law in 2015. While he did his best to put the other side, he made clear he was not an expert on it.
Finally, BBC Radio Four ran a 45-minute programme, hosted by Deborah Bowman, about Debbie Purdy. Again there was not a single person – for example, doctors or disability rights campaigners – putting an alternative view, something the programme-makers admitted on air.
Were this the first time our state broadcaster had acted as the cheerleader for assisted suicide it would have been bad enough, but it is not. In fact, the BBC has a track record of aggressively campaigning on the issue.
It has aired a staggering 11 documentaries, docu-dramas or dramas portraying assisted suicide in a positive light. None has been shown from the opposite perspective. These are the 11:
I’ll Die When I Choose: Panorama documentary fronted by Margo Macdonald MSP in the lead-up to introducing her ‘End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill’. Screened four times between 8 and 14 December 2008.
A Short Stay in Switzerland: 90-minute docu-drama covering the death of Anne Turner at the Dignitas facility in January 2006. Screened seven times between 25 January 2009 and 27 January 2010.
The 34th Richard Dimbleby Lecture, Shaking hands with death, featured Dignity in Dying patron Terry Pratchett making the case for assisted suicide for patients like himself with Alzheimer’s disease. Screened in February 2010.
BBC East Midlands Inside Out in 2010 featured a ‘confession’ by TV presenter Ray Gosling to smothering his former lover.
Choosing To Die, screened on 13 June 2011, featured Terry Pratchett and showed the death of a British man.
EastEnders: the assisted suicide of Ethel Skinner (2000) which was revisited in subsequent episodes.
EastEnders: the suicide of Peggy Mitchell (2016) who had cancer.
Way to Go: a six-part sitcom about assisted suicide shown on BBC3 in 2013.
Radio Four drama The Ferryhill Philosophers, February 2019.
How To Die, a BBC2 documentary which followed Simon Binner’s assisted suicide after motor neurone diagnosis February 2016.
Altered States, a documentary screened on 18 November 2018. Presented by Louis Theroux, it featured several people considering assisted suicide and focused on the final moments of a man called Gus.
Those masters of the broadcasting universe who commission or edit programmes for the BBC seem oblivious to the dangers of changing the law.
They wilfully turn away from the chilling evidence from the handful of places that have legalised assisted suicide or euthanasia.
Evidence that shows a majority of those ending their lives in the US states of Oregon and Washington, held up as examples of how the law would work in the UK, do so not because of their condition, or pain, but because they fear becoming a financial or care burden.
They ignore the fact that legalising assisted suicide has seen a massive increase in suicide rates in the general population in Oregon. Here suicide rates are 45 per cent higher than the national US average, and since 1997 have risen faster than the national average. It is worth noting that suicide numbers have risen in absolute terms, by nearly 30 per cent since 1996.
The organisation Care Not Killing has previously asked where was the BBC’s coverage of Belgium granting a physically healthy 24-year-old woman (‘Laura’) permission to undergo euthanasia due to depression, a story which was reported around the world and extensively covered by British newspapers.
Care Not Killing also challenged why the organisation did not make reference to figures published by Dutch authorities in 2017 (the most recent available) that show 169 Dementia patients were euthanised as were 83 people with psychiatric problems, while reluctantly reporting on cases similar to 29-year-old Aurelia Brouwers, who suffered from a range of mental health issues but was not terminally ill or disabled. In December 2017, she was given permission for the state to end her life despite her documented and treatable mental health problems.
Under the weight of these allegations, most organisations would admit that they have been more than a little partial to bumping off the vulnerable, terminally ill and disabled people, but not the BBC.
Astonishingly the official response is that they don’t think there is a pattern, but – here’s the rub – they can consider only programmes/news items less than 30 days old.
So in a scene reminiscent of Pontius Pilot washing his hands at the trial of Jesus, the chief media protagonist for changing the law on assisted suicide continues to deny any bias – an argument that simply doesn’t hold water.