Main | Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Right To Die

To great controversy, yesterday British television aired a film titled Right To Die?, which showed a terminally-ill man committing suicide on camera. The film raises the usual questions about euthanasia and assisted-suicide, although the man did the job on his own, albeit with an audience in the room.
The scene is difficult to watch, even for viewers inured to the subject of dying by 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 — Wednesday 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 Wednesday — "SUICIDE TV" screamed one tabloid — and prompted a debate in Parliament, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown was quizzed about the propriety of the decision to air the program.
Could such a sensible program ever air in America? Terri Schiavo, anyone? Many gay men my age have had a role in helping lovers, roommates, and friends end their suffering. It isn't easy, but to my mind it's perhaps the single greatest kindness you can show somebody you love.

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