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New BBC documentary 'cheerleading' assisted suicide

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The BBC has said it will air a documentary centred on the assisted suicide of a 57-year-old, who travelled to Switzerland to end his life last October.

Simon Binner, a businessman and campaigner to liberalise the law on assisted suicide, was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in January of last year. He made the decision to pursue assisted suicide shortly afterward and announced his intention to die on LinkedIn in October 2015.

On 10 February, BBC 2 will air Simon’s Choice, a 90-minute documentary following Mr Binner’s decision, set against the backdrop of last year’s intense political debate surrounding assisted suicide and the attempt by Rob Marris MP to introduce a bill to legalise assisted suicide.

Alistair Thompson, of Care Not Killing, called the BBC a "cheerleader for suicide".

Encouraging suicide

MPs voted overwhelmingly against the Marris bill last September. This was the first time the House of Commons had voted on the issue of assisted suicide in nearly 20 years.

At the time, Andrea Williams of Christian Concern said: "MPs have sent a clear message that this bill presented a serious threat to vulnerable people…. We give God all the glory."

Mr Binner had been working with the British Humanist Association to produce the documentary, with the clear aim of applying pressure in the public space to push for the legalisation of assisted suicide.

Care Not Killing’s Alistair Thompson said that the programme could lead others to kill themselves.

"We are deeply disturbed by this. This has the capacity to encourage others to take their own lives," he said.

The documentary shows Mr Binner’s wife, Debbie, describing her initial relief that the motion was defeated in Parliament. Poignantly, at one point she tells the camera that she believes her husband is making the wrong decision to end his own life – though later she changes her mind.

'Token representation'

The BBC has documented assisted suicide in the past. In 2011, it showed another sufferer of MND, Peter Smedley, choosing to end his life at Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic.

At the time, Christian Concern’s Chief Executive Andrea Williams said she hoped the programme would be the "last time" assisted suicide was shown on television.

The upcoming documentary has led to questions regarding the impartiality of the BBC on issues of this nature.

Andrea commented:

"As a broadcaster that claims to be neutral, the BBC should be giving more than token representation to those on the side of life. Instead, it is promoting a liberal view of assisted suicide under the guise of compassion.

"This will fuel campaigners who wish to liberalise the law, which would be the first step towards almost unrestricted euthanasia – as we already see in Belgium and the Netherlands."

Michael Wenham

Requests for assisted suicide are rare and evidence shows that, when the social, spiritual and physical needs of the person are met, the desire for death subsides.

Michael Wenham, who was diagnosed with MND in 2002, has campaigned for several years against any liberalisation of the law.

Speaking to Christian Concern in 2014, Mr Wenham explained his argument against assisted suicide.

The idea that suicide should be an option for terminal patients, he said, assumes that "we know what our prognosis – our term of life – will be and actually we don’t."

A BBC spokesperson said: "This is a sensitive observational documentary following one family’s experience of assisted death, which explores some of the complex questions at the heart of this deeply divisive issue. The film does not serve to support either argument or intend to wholly represent the debate."

Related News:
Watch Michael Wenham, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2002, explain his opposition to assisted suicide 
Assisted suicide 'announced' on internet 
MPs overwhelmingly reject death bill

Related Coverage:
BBC to show British businessman's suicide at Swiss clinic (Telegraph)