Watching Dying: New BBC Documentaries, PBS Frontline

I came across this a few minutes ago, purely by accident. Tonight, May 12, the BBC, as part of its documentary series Inside the Human Body is going to show the death from cancer of an elderly man who agreed to be filmed over the last two months of his life in hopes that his experience “would help others.”

The program already is sparking controversy, but the BBC has responded that

‘Death is an important part of the human experience, and showing Gerald’s death is integral to understanding what happens to the body when it is no longer able to function properly.

‘The BBC does not shy away from difficult subjects like this, but presents them in a sensitive and appropriate manner.’

The makers of Inside the Human Body were put in touch with the cancer sufferer by a hospice in Pembury, Kent, which said it was ‘important that life-threatening illness and death is discussed and understood more in our society’.

The Daily Mail reports that

the death scene lasts for less than five minutes and the voiceover carefully explains from a scientific perspective what is happening to Gerald’s body as he approaches death.

I also learned that this summer the BBC will be broadcasting a show featuring Sir Terry Pratchett, the novelist best known for his Discworld series, investigating what is involved in assisted suicide. Again, according to the Daily Mail,

The novelist, who has Alzheimer’s, will be seen at the bedside of a 71-year-old motor neurone disease sufferer until he succumbs to the cocktail of drugs he has taken to end his life at the Swiss clinic.

The BBC’s press release notes that

Terry has often spoken of the fact that he may choose a medically assisted death when his condition progresses, so his priority was to look at what this decision would really mean. What would it feel like to make the final decision to die? What would it feel like to visit Dignitas? What would it be like to be present when the moment of death came?

Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die looks at all of these issues in some detail, but in no way does he wave a one-sided flag for assisted death.

I’m not sure what to make of the Daily Mail’s last comment:

The programme, called Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die, will be the first time terrestrial television has shown a death by suicide.

since I don’t know what is meant by “terrestrial television.” I do know that an assisted suicide has been shown on TV before, in PBS’s Frontline 2007 broadcast of The Suicide Tourist, which showed the journey by a 59-year-old man, Chris Ewert, suffering from rapidly progressing ALS (Lou Gehring’s disease) to Switzerland where he legally commits suicide in an apartment maintained by Dignitas, at the time, and possibly still, “the only organization in Switzerland that will help foreigners.”And yes, you do see Ewert drink the cocktail and the Dignitas assistant tell his wife, who has been present during the entire process, that her husband “is gone.”

The whole program is available to watch online at Frontline. There is also an extensive list of links on the topic of assisted suicide at the site.