Right to Die?
Right to Die? is a documentary aired on Sky Real Lives in December 2008 (rebroadcast on PBS on 2 March 2010 as "The Suicide Tourist") about the assisted suicide of Craig Colby Ewert (1947–2006), a 59-year-old retired university professor who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic laterals sclerosis). Oscar-winning Canadian John Zaritsky directed and produced the film. Right to Die? had been previously shown on Canadian and Swiss television and at film festivals without controversy.
Ewert, who lived in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England where assisted suicide is punishable by 14 years in jail, travelled to Switzerland where he was assisted by the Dignitas NGO at a rented Zurich apartment. The documentary, which covers the last four days of life, shows him dying on 26 September 2006 with Mary, his wife of 37 years, at his side. An employee of the Swiss clinic, Dignitas, can be seen preparing a lethal dose of barbiturates on camera, following which Ewert drinks it and dies. He died listening to Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. Ewert's children, Ivan and Katrina, who live in the US, decided not to attend their father's death after he expressed concerns that they would become upset.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, questioned in the House of Commons, hours before the documentary was screened, told MPs that he "thinks it is very important that these issues are dealt with sensitively and without sensationalism and I hope broadcasters remember that they have a wider responsibility to the general public." He further explained his position: “I believe that it’s necessary to ensure that there is never a case in the country where a sick or elderly person feels under pressure to agree to an assisted death or somehow feels it’s the expected thing to do. That’s why I’ve always opposed legislation for assisted deaths.” A spokesman for Dignity in Dying criticized Brown's statement: “Gordon Brown’s comments underline why there needs to be a full debate in Parliament on this issue.” Lord Warner, a former Health Minister, added: “Gordon Brown’s comments are not terribly helpful.... Survey after survey has shown that 75-80 per cent of the population are in favour of assisted dying for the terminally ill when their pain has become unbearable, providing there are appropriate safeguards in place.” Privately, other politicians also criticised Gordon Brown, claiming that he had breached a convention of government neutrality by expressing a view on an issue recognised as one of conscience rather than party policy.
The broadcast on Sky was watched by 231,000 viewers. This was a huge boost to Sky Real Lives' ratings – the show had less than 10,000 viewers in the same time slot a week before. Mary Ewert defended the documentary against criticism that it was a "cynical attempt to boost television ratings". His son Ivan told The Sun from his home in Chicago, Illinois "I am very proud of what Dad did".
- Televised suicide causes uproar in Britain , The New Zealand Herald, 12 December 2008
- Professor Craig Ewert's final moments to be broadcast on TV, The Times, 10 December 2008
- British TV to show Right To Die? documentary about Craig Ewert taking own life, Herald Sun, 10 December 2008
- CNN TV channel to broadcast assisted suicide, 10 December 2008
- British TV to Broadcast Sick Man's Suicide, ABC News, 10 December 2008
- Moore, Matthew (12 December 2008). "Suicide man's son wants to die in same Swiss clinic". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
- The Sun Suicide doc sparks row, 10 December 2008
- The Times Gordon Brown speaks out about Craig Ewert’s televised suicide, 10 December 2008
- Nugent, Helen (11 December 2008). "Gordon Brown refuses to back law allowing assisted suicides". The Times. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
- Jamieson, Alastair (10 Dec 2008). "Assisted suicide documentary: Oscar-winning director defends Dignitas clinic film". London: Daily Telegraph.
- Nichols, Sam (11 December 2008). "TV ratings: Right to Die? watched by 231,000". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
- BBC News Wife defends suicide documentary, 10 December 2008