BBC Suicide Documentary, a step too far?

The BBC has not been in favour with the public of late. In January, the popular BBC soap Eastenders managed to cause a national debate, inciting discussions on twitter, by involving a storyline involving one of the characters swopping their tragically dead baby for a neighbour’s baby. The entire storyline caused a national stir, inciting the BBC to bring the conclusion forward as to avoid risking upset to viewers. This is not exactly an isolated incident. The BBC has always produced controversial programmes and radio broadcasts to broaden our knowledge and create a discussion. However on 13th June, Terry Pratchett’s documentary “Choosing to Die” on BBC 2, sparked outrage for viewers who voiced their opinion to the BBC. So far, over 1000 complaints have been registered with the BBC and it is expected to rise. However, Pratchett has defended his documentary, claiming that the documentary was positive in informing people of the practices in assisted suicide. Why has this programme sparked national criticism? Have the viewers not grasped the concept of the documentary or did the BBC go too far?

The BBC 2 documentary aired last night after already creating a stir through its reviews in the national papers and online tv guides. In context to the documentary, much of the debate was centred around the choice to show a 71-year-old man taking a lethal dose of  barbiturates on camera in order to end his own life. Pratchett, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, is a supported of the organisation ‘Dying with Dignity’ which looks to change the law to allow assisted suicide.

The debate surrounding assisted suicide has been heated in recent years with the publicity surrounding court cases and the campaigning by several groups on oppositional sides. Should we be allowing assisted suicide within modern society or is it a case of human rights versus moral rights? And if so, are the BBC at fault for showing the documentary or should they have pulled it from being broadcast?

Controversy surrounding many BBC documentaries has been shown to be positive as it exposes many subjects that affect the nation, exposing previously trusted organisations to viewers to generate change. Last month, BBC Panorama, exposed the mis-treatment and abuse from staff at a Bristol care home, causing national disgust and outrage. Consequently, four members of staff were arrested after the programme aired and the care home itself in currently under investigation. We can see that in certain circumstances, controversy works to enable viewers to become active and participate in changing a national policy or campaign to have an event investigated.

Why does the Pratchett documentary come under such huge criticism instead of just controversy?

Assisted suicide, particularly concerning the elderly, has become one of the most debated subjects, however this is not the first documentary concerning assisted suicide to be broadcast in Britain. In 2008, a British television channel aired a documentary focusing on a terminally ill man, Craig Ewert as he attempted to fly to the Swiss clinic to end his suffering. This caused controversy at the time but for some reason, people still believe that a documentary like Pratchett’s has never been broadcasted.

The BBC have never shied away from controversial topics to get viewers discussing a topic, however, with the backlash from Terry Pratchett’s documentary, it could be said that the BBC are guilty of depicting upsetting topics such as these, in order to boost ratings. As for the issue of assisted suicide, there are many arguments on both sides, suggesting that the issues is one to be debated by those with a personal stance. I’m sure the people watching “Choosing to Die” didn’t think it was an innocent documentary, they expected it to be emotional and distressing, however the BBC may have taken the concept a little too far by not involving an objectivity, more of a strictly personal outlook. These topics will always be debated, we just don’t need to add fuel on the fire.

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