Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 12.11

A British TV channel was scheduled to air a documentary yesterday chronicling the assisted suicide death of a man suffering from motor neurone disease (MND), which deprived him of the use of his arms and legs and caused him to be constantly connected to a ventilator. Craig Ewert’s suicide was assisted without complications in a Swiss clinic and filmed in 2006.

Mary Ewert said her husband wanted his death to be filmed in order to show that a terminal illness does not have to result in a painful death. Some people claimed the event was being exploited by the British TV channel to boost ratings.

What do you think Skepchick readers:

Would a program of this nature appeal to our curiosity and/or morbidity-lust and only serve to boost ratings? Or is there anything to be learned from witnessing an assisted suicide?

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

Related Articles

45 Comments

  1. In the end it’s his decision. Just as I believe Steve Irwin’s tape should have been released in accordance to his wishes. I don’t know what can and cannot be learned from this event, but to me it is a matter of freedom. He should have the freedom to live and die in his own way, and if he wants it recorded, and a television station wants it played, then I don’t see any issue here.

  2. This doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. The broadcaster has to do everything they can to get the ratings to pull the advertisers to allow them to remain on air and make a profit for their stockholders. This doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from witnessing this though.

    Personally I think this sort of thing has to be a good thing. The quality of life (or lack there of) that some people have is something that is all too often hidden away from the public eye.

  3. It was a documentary. What about Schindler’s List? Or any number of documentaries on the Nazis? They show death. Why is this any different? A documentary is there to educate, and while some people may watch it only for the carnage, I think it is still appropriate for the documentary, since his “assisted suicide” was the entire premise of the documentary.

    I’ve had a shit-ton of food, so if my thoughts don’t make sense, it is because I am in a coma right now.

  4. @drockwood: No, I know that, but it was the first thing that popped into my head. (food coma!) Mostly I was thinking of those documentaries I see on PBS all the time about the Nazi concentration camps, but I could not for the life of me remember any names.

  5. I haven’t seen this so I don’t really have an opinion because I don’t know how the situation was portrayed, BUT I feel like sometimes complaints of exploitation are ant-media rhetoric and aren’t based on a cognizant argument against what’s being portrayed and why. In this case, where the man wanted his story told, I’m not so sure that exploitation was a factor. But again I haven’t seen it (or the advertising that went into promoting it).

  6. @Sam Ogden: No, because one is about Nazi concentration camps and another is about assisted suicide. But both present death, albeit different kinds of death. Both are educational (Schindler’s List may be a movie, but I think it is educational, just like a documentary is).

    The end result of assisted suicide is death. It makes sense to me to show that death in a documentary about assisted suicide.

    It may not be pretty, and there may be people who are uncomfortable with it, and there may be others that get a sick pleasure from it, but that doesn’t mean it should be censored or ignored.

  7. Without seeing this particular program, I think it’s impossible to offer an honest opinion on it.

    Overall, I have my doubts that I would learn anything from observing an assisted suicide. I’ve seen death for real and I don’t think viewing a televised death is of much use. All of your senses are engaged while seeing a death close up, which cannot be replicated remotely. It’s counterfeiting a deep experience that leads to a feeling of false understanding in the observer. The observer won’t understand that until they see the real thing.

    Just my opinion. For the record, how many people have been present at a death?

  8. @marilove:

    It may not be pretty, and there may be people who are uncomfortable with it, and there may be others that get a sick pleasure from it, but that doesn’t mean it should be censored or ignored.

    Well, I agree with you. I just wonder what you all might learn from seeing the assisted suicide documentary. I mean, the man’s wife said he wanted his death to be filmed to show that a terminal illness does not have to end in a painful death. But is there more to be learned by witnessing it in full color on TV?

  9. I think it is more important that it exists than I see it. Some people will see it, perhaps a few will learn something, but many more will talk about it like we are. Peers talking stands a much better chance of altering people’s opinions than watching a TV show.

  10. @Sam Ogden: I guess it puts the issue out there. There are laws against assisted suicide and maybe their point was that if more people understood the feelings of the people who want to be assisted to die, it would be more accepted. ? I’m not sure though, because I’m not them. :)

  11. @QuestionAuthority: “Mary Ewert said her husband wanted his death to be filmed in order to show that a terminal illness does not have to result in a painful death.”

    I think that you can get at least that much from seeing an assisted suicide.

    Having had my grandfather commit suicide by gun because he was so sick (and dying), I want people to realize that there are options, and assisted suicide is the most humane way to go about it. I think this is a good way to do it. It may not be the same as seeing it up close and personal, but I do think the point “it does not have to be painful!” is a good point to be made.

    SO MANY PEOPLE do not understand what assisted suicide is all about. Doesn’t it make sense to present ALL the facts, including the death, so that they can make an educated decision for themselves?

  12. @Kimbo Jones:

    That’s a very good point. I have seen interviews with some of the Kevorkian people way back when, and to see how lucid they were in making their decisions, and to see how much pain they constantly endured, was very compelling.

    And I suppose a lot of people do still have the image of dying being painful and traumatic no matter the circumstances, and something of this nature would teach them that death can instead come quietly and painlessly in a manner we choose.

  13. @Sam Ogden: ” But is there more to be learned by witnessing it in full color on TV?”

    Perhaps not. But I think showing that assisted suicide is humane is actually really, really important.

    And honestly, I hope to see this documentary some day. I would very much like to see the entire process, so that I can understand what goes into assisted suicide, since I am very pro-assisted suicide.

  14. This wasn’t a snuff film or torture flick. This wasn’t someone who didn’t want to die and was being killed against his will. I think that the people who were looking for sick kicks wouldn’t be interested in this film. It wouldn’t do anything for them. I heard this man interviewed and he explained his decision. He was lucid and understood what he was doing. He wasn’t mentally ill or in the grips of a profound depression. He wanted this to be shown and I think that if his decisions were documented and explained in a clear manner then this would have an educational effect. In the end no one would be forced to watch it.

  15. @Sam Ogden: I think that most against assisted suicide likely don’t understand it, and don’t know what it entails. This documentary I think would go a long way in helping people understand the process. How can you be for assisted suicide if you don’t understand it?

  16. @Gabrielbrawley: This is why I think it’s utterly ridiculous that some people are saying it’s explotative.

    They are okay with violence in movies and in TV and in music, but against this? This is REAL, and it’s educational.

    I suspect the most vocal people against this documentary airing are against assisted suicide, period, and are afraid that this will make people pro-assisted suicide, and not that they are against death and violence in general.

    This isn’t violent. It’s educational. And it might undermine those who want to keep assisted suicide illegal.

  17. @QuestionAuthority: My mom was very sick from cancer for several months before she passed away, and it was really rough. She was in a coma for three days before she died and that was even rougher. I was there when she finally went. When the respiratory and cardiac monitors keep sliding downward and you know they won’t be going back up, things become unreal.

  18. I don’t think this particular documentary needs the actual death to be shown in order to make its point. The patient’s thought process and the events leading up to the decision, I think, are much more pertinent to the subject of the film.

    As others have pointed out, people see the dead all the time in documentaries. But that’s not the same as seeing someone die. Witnessing the actual transition — the elegant biochemical dance suddenly collapsing into nothingness — has a profound effect on the mind. Should it be shown in a documentary? I don’t know.

  19. @Steve DeGroof: “I don’t think this particular documentary needs the actual death to be shown in order to make its point.”

    I don’t agree with that.

    “Mary Ewert said her husband wanted his death to be filmed in order to show that a terminal illness does not have to result in a painful death.”

    I think showing the death may be the only way to make that point.

  20. @marilove: I was thinking the same thing myself.

    Assisted suicide isn’t anything that should be done wholesale. There are definitely a number of situations where it would be appropriate. Forcing a person to endure extended pain and suffering is inhumane. The decision should be up to the individual and a doctor should have to agree.

    I won’t watch this documentary. But if it is properly done there are probably a lot of people that could benefit.

  21. @Knurl: Oh, no, it’s okay. Honestly, we were relieved when it happened. He had been bed ridden for some time and we all knew he was just going to get worse, and we were all painfully aware how much he hated that. He was no longer the same person that I knew and loved. None of us were at all surprised when he killed himself.

    It actually solidified my believe that assisted suicide is a necessarily. It also helped my dad come to that conclusion, too.

    It was painful, but we all understand why he did it, and in fact, I think it was pretty courageous and JUST LIKE HIM to take things into his own hands. I can hear him now: “SCREW this bed-ridden stuff! I’m done!” I don’t think he had any problems making that decision.

    Would I have been happier had he been allowed to die in a more dignified way, without blood spattered everywhere? YES. One reason (out of many) that I am pro-assisted suicide.

  22. Are there any objective arguments to not showing a person die in a documentary?

    If not, then I see no problem with the death itself being in the documentary. People’s emotional reactions would be different depending on the individual, so I wouldn’t consider that a good reason not to include it.

    (Not trying to be a shit-disturber, I’d legitimately like to hear this perspective.)

  23. On Dutch television right now, there’s a debate concerning this matter.
    I find it quite difficult to objectively respond, for in the Netherlands euthanasia is legal.

    I’m not quite sure if it has a purpose to show a man die on television. A documentary about his life, however, and maybe some images of him in Switzerland, may raise more awareness. Showing him actually die, may be too confronting for some viewers.

    Although I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with raising awareness concerning euthanasia.

  24. @Knurl: I find it interesting that writerdd (and likely quite a few other people) would be okay with seeing a dramatized death, but not a real death in a documentary. This documentary is educational. Why is dramatized, fictional death a-okay but real death not?

  25. I don’t think I have the right to judge on other people’s life, but for me it is in someway unhuman to show someone at it most vulnerable, private; when they die.
    I wouldn’t want to be a spectator of that moment, not when I do not have some kind of relation to that person. (Not trying to imply that I would want someone close to me die)
    But to summarize my point; I don’t have any right to judge about that, so if they want to show that, they should broadcast it.

  26. @Kimbo Jones: Unless the documentary is poorly done, I can’t think of any. The entire point is to show that assisted suicide spares the person from going through a seriously dehumanizing death, and does allow them to peacefully pass away with some dignity.

  27. @marilove: @Knurl: I find it interesting that writerdd (and likely quite a few other people) would be okay with seeing a dramatized death, but not a real death in a documentary. This documentary is educational. Why is dramatized, fictional death a-okay but real death not?

    I don’t know. I wish they would explain why.

  28. In my state (Washington) we have just become the second state that allows physician assisted suicide for terminal patients. We didn’t need a TV show and the voters’ (myself included) made a rational and I feel reasonable choice. I do not think this type of show would be helpful for the discussion in states that may address this issue at the ballot box. Then again if/when it’s available on the interweb the question will be moot. And I don’t think I would object to a show of this sort given the number of deaths that are shown on the news in military conflicts, war etc..

    I’ve been dealing with my own cancer situation the past five months (treatable and I’m doing ok) I’ve thought about this question a time or two. I defiantly would want the option available depending on the circumstance.

  29. @marilove:

    As pure speculation I would say with ‘movie deaths’, no matter how graphic or confronting, deep down people know they are fake and that the actor/stuntman is walking around and laughing with the rest of the cast once the scene is shot.

    I think it is the eyes – there is a subtle difference between how live eyes look and dead ones ( they look sort of glassy- hard to explain). The appearance of the eyes would also explain why ‘real’ deaths on TV (but not up and close like this documentary) because you rarely see the faces.

    Seeing a ‘real’ deathhead on is a whole other matter. It brings home the point that “You too are going to die one day. Everyone you know is going to die. In a few years, you too are going to be just like this real person on the screen”. Even everyday speech does its best to pretend death doesn’t exist or is far away (dont say “Died”, say “kicked the bucket”, “passed away”, “moved on”, etc).

    I will be curious how the documentary is done though. Will they actually show him the moment he goes from ‘live’ to ‘dead’ or will they cut away at the last minute?

  30. Man I wish I had time to talk about this, wanna ask it again it two weeks?

    Real quick, and I haven’t read any of the above comments, there’s nothing wrong with airing this program. People should stop looking at death as something to avoid at all costs and start looking at what is a meaningful life and how that definition might vary.

    I’m not dying, but I want the right to chose when I die and to do so comfortably.

  31. Man I wish I had time to talk about this, wanna ask it again it two weeks?

    Real quick, and I haven’t read any of the above comments, there’s nothing wrong with airing this program. People should stop looking at death as something to avoid at all costs and start looking at what is a meaningful life and how that definition might vary.

    I’m not dying, but I want the right to chose when I die and to do so comfortably.

  32. @James Fox: Well, you live in a lucky state. But not all states and countries are so lucky. Not all voters are that intelligent. If something like that were to come up in Arizona, it would be shot down. It wouldn’t have a chance in hell of passing. And mostly that’s because of our right-wing religous folks, but a lot of it is also out-right ignorance on what assisted suicide is. I think a docu such as this might go a long way in educating people on the process.

  33. @marilove: I agree if the goal was to present the reasonable, rational and aspects of the procedure. Our new law requires two physicians to certify the patient is terminal before a lethal dosage of meds are prescribed. Many folk effectively do this themselves by saving up pain meds and often at the suggestions of doctors who are willing to be compassionate despite the law.

Leave a Reply

You May Also Enjoy

Close
Close