Terry Pratchett and Why Euthanasia Is One Of The Last Taboos

Charities and religious groups have denounced the BBC for screening Terry Pratchett's documentary 'Choosing To Die'. One journalist even called it a 'snuff' movie - but it's not exactly Human Centipede 2 is it?
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Charities and religious groups have denounced the BBC for screening Terry Pratchett's documentary 'Choosing To Die'. One journalist even called it a 'snuff' movie - but it's not exactly Human Centipede 2 is it?

Real life is boring. Growing up, I wanted a movie adolescence instead. I dreamed of finding a treasure map and a deformed man-mountain under a run-down cafe. Alternatively, I imagined setting off on a two day adventure to find a dead body and poke it with sticks. But reality had other ideas. Instead, my rites de passage involved downing my first bottle of Mad Dog in an adventure playground, and trying to keep down a spam fritter whilst watching the 'miracle of birth' video in social studies.

If you're of a similar age to me, you probably suffered through the same one. And let me tell you, seeing the gory details came as quite a shock. Especially after years of fictionalised birthing scenes, where the mother broke into a mild sweat for a few minutes, before being handed a spotless three-month old. Instead, we got to see a woman whose inner thighs looked like Noddy Holder, shitting out a blue scatter cushion covered in chicken madras.

These days, our teenage counterparts have far more explicit content streamed directly to their iPhones. So what's left for teachers to show that'll upset the desensitised little buggers? According to the horrified tabloids, it's a 'how to top yourself' video starring "notorious assisted suicide campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke". As soon as the cyber-bullying gets too much for them, troubled teens can simply take a few extra notes in their GCSE Philosophy class. And English Lit will help them compose a suitably poetic farewell note. Job's a good 'un.

Complex issues like assisted suicide demand mature, reasonable debate, not name calling and 'la-la-la, I can't hear you' rhetoric.

Except, that's not really how it works at all. The film they're getting so upset about was actually prepared by a company called 'Classroom Video', which is responsible for many of the educational films currently in circulation. And rather than helping kids to decide whether plastic bags or carbon monoxide are the most effective way of checking out, it's been created to explore the medical ethics of euthanasia. Teachers who've used the resource claim that it handles both sides of the assisted suicide debate in an unbiased and constructive manner. But that doesn't really sell newspapers.

This is all big news at the moment, since the Commission on Assisted Dying is expected to make its recommendations to MPs this Autumn about whether the law should be changed. So it's hardly surprising that the news media is doing everything it can to derail the discussion, just in case someone's in danger of actually making a sensible decision.

The BBC doesn’t emerge unscathed from this campaign of misinformation either. Last night it broadcast a high-profile documentary that followed Sir Terry Pratchett’s investigation into assisted suicide. Controversially, the programme featured footage of a man with motor neurone disease travelling to the Swiss euthanasia clinic Dignitas and being shown dying on screen. As you'd expect, it made for distressing viewing. Even so, if we're going to engage with the issue, such coverage is not something we should automatically shy away from, just because it’s a little more challenging than Antiques Roadshow.

Even so, it's downright bizarre to see this described by one journalist as a "snuff movie". As if drunk teenagers are going to watch it in a double-bill with The Human Centipede, and cheer on the evil doctor as he loads his syringe. Complex issues like assisted suicide demand mature, reasonable debate, not name calling and 'la-la-la, I can't hear you' rhetoric.

Just like those formative rites of passage, death is nothing like it's portrayed in the movies. It's tough, painful and desperately sad for all concerned. And to demean it by comparing it to the worst kind of exploitation is the greatest crime of all.

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