MEDIA

BBC Airs Controversial Assisted Suicide Documentary, Death Shown On Air

06/14/2011 06:50 pm ET | Updated Aug 14, 2011

The BBC aired what may have been one of the most controversial segments in the network's history Monday night, a documentary chronicling the assisted suicide of 71-year-old Peter Smedley.

The documentary, titled Choosing to Die, followed Smedley, whose identity had not been know beyond the name "Peter" until recently, from his home in the U.K. to the Dignitas facility in Switzerland where he later took his own life, according to the Telegraph. At the facility he was given a lethal dose of barbiturates that would eventually kill him.

Smedley apparently suffered from motor neurone disease, according to MSNBC.

Controversy has been brewing on both sides of the assisted suicide argument since the film aired on BBC two Monday night. In an interview with the BBC, Sir Terry Pratchett, the author who made the film possible, said it did not sway his opinion on assisted suicide, and remains in favor of the procedure.

"I believe it should be possible for someone stricken with a serious and ultimately fatal illness to choose to die peacefully with medical help, rather than suffer," he told BBC's Newsnight.

Pratchett himself suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

However, the controversy goes even beyond the debate on assisted suicide. There are also those that are simply upset that the program aired on television, contending that many tuned in simply to watch someone die.

“I rather thought that we had moved on from the days when people gathered in crowds to watch other people die," Nola Leach, chief executive of CARE, told the Telegraph.

In the end, the decision to air Smedley's death was the BBC's choice, but according to an interview Charlie Russell, the film's director said the decision just to film his death was a hard one. "As a film maker I felt it was the truth and unfortunately we do all die," he told the BBC.

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