Assisted suicide creates stir in Britain
Euthanasia foes protest TV airing
LONDON - The scene is difficult to watch, even for viewers inured to the subject of dying by way of a steady diet of violent Hollywood and television fare.
Craig Ewert, a former computer scientist from Chicago, is shown lying in bed with his wife at his side while he takes barbiturates. He asks for a glass of apple juice to mask the bad taste and help him swallow. Then he uses his teeth to turn off his ventilator - and dies on camera.
Britain's obsession with reality television reached new heights - or depths - last night with the broadcast of the assisted suicide of the 59-year-old terminally ill American at a Swiss clinic.
Showing the final moment of death had long been a final taboo, even for no-holds-barred British TV, where sex and violence are common, and the broadcast unleashed debate on an issue that strongly divides public opinion.
Photographs of Ewert's final moments dominated Britain's newspaper front pages yesterday and prompted a debate in Parliament, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown was quizzed about the propriety of the decision to air the program.
Before he died, Ewert said taking his own life would mean less suffering for himself and his family.
"If I go through with it, I die as I must at some point," he says in a documentary that chronicles his 2006 decision to take his own life after being diagnosed with degenerative motor neuron disease. "If I don't go through with it, my choice is essentially to suffer, and to inflict suffering on my family, and then die."
Care Not Killing, an anti-euthanasia group aligned with the Catholic Church and other religious groups in Britain, denounced the broadcast as "a cynical attempt to boost television ratings" and persuade Parliament to legalize assisted suicide.
"There is a growing appetite from the British public for increasingly bizarre reality shows," said the group's director, Peter Saunders.
"We'd see it as a new milestone. It glorifies assisted dying when there is a very active campaign by the prosuicide lobby to get the issue back into Parliament."
Mary Ewert wrote in the British press yesterday that her husband had been enthusiastic about having his final moments televised.
"He was keen to have it shown because when death is hidden and private, people don't face their fears about it," she said, adding that he wanted viewers to understand that assisted suicide allowed him to die comfortably rather than endure a long and painful demise.
The documentary by Oscar-winning director John Zaritsky has previously been shown on Canadian and Swiss TV and at numerous film festivals, where it provoked little controversy.
But it struck a raw nerve in Britain, where the debate over assisted suicide remains unresolved.
Zaritsky said it would have been "less than honest" to make the film without showing the suicide because it would have left viewers wondering if the death was unpleasant, cruel, or carried out against Ewert's will.