Monday, February 01, 2010

BBC Coverage of Euthanasia: Spot the Agenda?

Update: The Pratchett lecture was very good, delivered (completely from memory, from what I could see) by Tony Robinson on Terry Pratchett's behalf. As part of the debate, it was worth seeing, very thought provoking, and very honest. Panorama was pretty good, it brought in a range of opinions, though the core story was of a mum who helped her daughter to end her own life. Within that context, it's hard not to present those choices sympathetically.

In the middle of the Dimbleby lecture (with both brothers on the front row), between mentions of Martin Amis and Michael Parkinson, I was struck by the presence of the Baby Boomer generation at the forefront of the pro-euthanasia campaign. The line 'my life, my death, my choice' had echoes of the Boomer mantra 'we want to be free, to do what we wanna do' (from Easy Rider I think). In the 60s and 70s they tested the sexual boundaries, in the 80's and 90's the boundaries of consumption and greed, and now that the boomers have finished their world with SAGA, the idea that a life lived totally on my own terms might not end on my own terms jars with everything the Boomers have done and campaigned for. I'd be interested to see the breakdown of the Panorama surveys by age cohort.

Panorama documentary 'I helped my daughter to die' (judging by the title, it will be sympathetic to the assisted dying argument).
Terry Pratchett lecture (same link) arguing for the right to assisted suicide.

December 08-Jan 09
'A Short Stay in Switzerland' dramatisation with Julie Walters of the death of retired doctor Ann Turner, who travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end her life.
Panorama 'I'll Die When I Choose'.
both sympathetic, and aired in the run-up to a Parliamentary debate on the issue.

News coverage of the Joffe bill in 2006, with commentary by Care Not Killing, a coalition of groups opposed to euthanasia. The summing up by reporter Fergus Walsh is quite obviously one-sided.

I'm struggling to think of a programme devoted to the issue which presented both sides equally, let alone allowed a supporter of palliative care to set the agenda and tone for the piece. If I'm wrong, then please let me know some examples, and I'll happily blog them.

In the meantime, I don't want my license payers money used so that the BBC can be a mouthpiece for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Yes this is a complex issue, there are arguments on both sides, and its emotionally charged, but to me it doesn't look like the BBC are facilitating a debate, more that they are running a campaign. Is that fair?


  1. Perhaps the problem is a lack of compelling and cohesive counter arguments?

    To me at least, the anti-arguments I have heard seem to be primarily "faith" based, or at least based upon "what if" scenario's that no one disputes and all parties want legislation to avoid (i.e. the callous relative etc.)

    Is this another case of religion wanting to interfere and impose it's dogma (as the secular side suspect), or is there really a compelling ethical argument to prolong someone's life beyond their own wishes and quality of life threshold?

  2. Thanks Steve. The BMA is opposed to a change in the law on euthanasia, and they're not a faith based organisation. They seem to have moved away from a neutral stance to being clearly opposed, and on the basis of medical ethics and good practice:

    Some of the counter arguments are going to be 'what if' arguments, due to euthanasia still being illegal. We don't have to look far to see other situations (e.g. Iraq) where a bit more attention to the 'what ifs' might have been a good thing.

    From somewhere I recall the phrase 'hard cases make bad law' - no idea what the original context is (!) but at the moment the euthanasia case is built on individual cases and the moving and emotional stories which go with them. The trouble is that there's no such thing as an individual case - they all have an impact on other people, and on society at large. Euthanasia itself isn't just about the individual, it draws in family and relatives, and medical professionals. Soldiers sign up knowing that ending other people's lives in the call of duty might happen, but (thankfully!) it's a different ethos in the caring professions.

  3. D, Thanks for that link, it's more of a statement than a reasoned argument and looks at it from the legal and practical point of view of Doctors assisting (or not, according their own wishes), which is fair enough I suppose since that's their remit (i.e. to represent Doctors).

    I am more interested in the perspective of the owner of the life in question and of course there is always an impact on others, I don't think anyone would dispute that which is why some of the current suggestions include a consensus based way of dealing with this.

    The problem that I see with a general approach of "don't change anything just in case we get it wrong" is that we don't move forwards at all (on anything). Why not build a framework from the aggregation of the experience and learning from lot's of individual cases, this is after all about as individual a thing as you could get and empirically based rules are usually better than rules based on less tangible and abstract thinking.