Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die
Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die is a 2011 one-off television documentary produced by KEO North for BBC Scotland on the subject of assisted suicide, directed and produced by Charlie Russell. It is presented by Terry Pratchett and features Peter Smedley, a 71-year-old motor neurone disease sufferer, dying by suicide at the Swiss assisted dying organisation, Dignitas.
The film sparked strong controversy and was criticised by Christian and pro-life organisations as "biased"; the accusations were denied by the BBC, the pro-assisted death organisation Dignity in Dying, and Terry Pratchett himself.
The film focuses on the story of Peter Smedley, an English millionaire hotelier who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2008. At the beginning of the film, Pratchett meets with the Smedleys to talk about dying; then he visits the widow of a Belgian writer Hugo Claus who decided to commit suicide in 2008 after developing Alzheimer's disease.
Pratchett talks to Mick Gordelier, a retired London taxi driver with motor neurone disease who has no desire to commit suicide, preferring to be cared for in a hospice. After that, the novelist visits Andrew Colgan, a 42-year-old multiple sclerosis sufferer; Colgan, like Peter Smedley, decided to go to Dignitas to take his life. Pratchett then travels to Switzerland to accompany the Smedleys and meets with Ludwig Minelli, the founder of Dignitas; during the final scene of the film, he witnesses the death of Smedley who takes a lethal dose of the barbiturate Nembutal, being kept company by his wife Christine and two Dignitas staff.
The film was shot in several locations around the United Kingdom, including Terry Pratchett's manor house near Salisbury, Wiltshire. The interview with the Smedleys was filmed at their mansion in Saint Peter Port, Guernsey with the Swiss part being shot in Zurich; the final scene took place on 10 December 2010 in Blue Oasis, Dignitas's two-storey house located in an industrial estate east of the city.
A preview of the film was shown at the 2011 Sheffield Doc/Fest on 11 June. Its première was screened as a part of Panorama documentary programme on BBC Two television channel on 13 June, attaining 1.6 million viewers (6.7% of the total British audience); a following Newsnight debate on the film which represented both supporters and opponents of assisted suicide drew 1.1 million (5.6%).
The film is believed to be the first on-screen death by euthanasia aired on terrestrial television; previously, in December 2008, the satellite television channel Sky Real Lives had shown the assisted suicide of a retired university professor Craig Ewert, who suffered from motor neurone disease, performed at the same Dignitas clinic.
The film sparked strong controversy even before its première, with the BBC receiving about 750 complaints before the broadcast on 13 June and several others after the airing; on the following day, the total number of complaints reached 1,219 with 301 calls in favour of the film. It has been criticised by Christian and pro-life organisations, including the Care Not Killing Alliance, whose spokeswoman, Alistair Thompson, described it as a "pro assisted-suicide propaganda loosely dressed up as a documentary"; its campaign director Peter Saunders stated that the film is a "disgraceful use of licence-payers' money and further evidence of a blatant campaigning stance". Michael Nazir-Ali, a former bishop of the Church of England, added that it "glorified suicide and indeed assisted suicide".
Four British peers: Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Carlile of Berriew issued a joint complaint to Director-General of the BBC Mark Thompson and BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten of Barnes, calling the film "repugnant" and "disgraceful"; they wrote that the BBC ran a "orchestrated campaign" in favour of assisted death. In July 2011, an Early Day Motion calling on the BBC to remain impartial on the subject of assisted dying was supported by 15 members of the House of Commons.
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying defended the film saying it was "deeply moving and at times difficult to watch" and that it "did not seek to hide the realities of assisted dying". A spokeswoman of the BBC denied the accusations of bias saying that the film "is giving people the chance to make their own minds up on the issue"; BBC's commissioning editor for documentaries, Charlotte Moore, said: "the BBC doesn’t have a stance on assisted suicide, but we do think that this is an important matter of debate". Craig Hunter, the film's executive producer for KEO North, called it a "valuable contribution to the increasingly urgent debate as to who determines when and how we die."
Terry Pratchett, who was a presenter on the film, disclosed his reason for making it, stating that he was "appalled at the current situation" and that "he knows that assisted dying is practised in at least three places in Europe and also in the United States." He defended the right to decide on assisted death, saying that he believes "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."
On 13 November 2011, 5 months after its première, the film received the 2011 BAFTA Scotland Single Documentary award for the best Scottish documentary film produced in 2011. On 21 March 2012, it also received the 2011 Royal Television Society Programme Awards in a category for single documentaries, being described by the judges as "groundbreaking, revelatory and profoundly moving." On 27 May 2012, the programme received the Single Documentary prize in the 2012 Arqiva British Academy Television Awards. On 20 November 2012, it received the Best Documentary prize in the 40th International Emmy Awards.
- "Monday 13th June 2011". Attentional.com. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Whittingham, Clive (14 June 2011). "Pratchett defends suicide doc". C21 Media. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Rayner, Gordon (7 June 2007). "Millionaire hotelier Peter Smedley named as man whose Dignitas assisted suicide was filmed by BBC". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Gee, Catherine (13 June 2011). "Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die, BBC Two, review". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Edmondson, Richard (23 June 2011). "TV review: A moving look at one of the great moral questions". Northampton Chronicle & Echo. Retrieved 23 June 2011.
- Ferguson, Euan (19 June 2011). "Rewind TV: Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die; Newsnight; Camelot; Luther; The Apprentice". The Observer. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
- Wenham, Michael (15 June 2011). "Choosing to die misses the depth of life". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- Harrison, Bernice (18 June 2011). "Pratchett's search for a way out shows reality of going to Dignitas". The Irish Times. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- Connolly, Lucy (11 June 2011). "BBC suicide documentary Choosing To Die sparks debate". The Sun. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
- Lawson, Dominic (14 June 2011). "Why the disabled fear assisted suicide". The Independent. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
- Wollaston, Sam (13 June 2011). "TV review: Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die; Kill it, Cut it, Use it". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Pierce, Andrew (30 December 2008). "A short biography by Colin Smythe". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
- Seamark, Michael (9 June 2011). "The 71-year-old millionaire who died at Dignitas with Terry Pratchett at his side in controversial BBC documentary". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
- "Why a quiet millionaire's suicide will be shown on TV". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 June 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Falconer, Bruce. "Death Becomes Him". The Atlantic. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
- "Sir Terry Pratchett explores the realities of assisted death in BBC Two documentary" (Press release). BBC. 15 April 2011. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
- "Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die". Sheffield Doc/Fest. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
- Nichols, Matt (13 June 2011). "He preferred suicide to a lingering death". The Guernsey Press and Star. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Hitchcock, Henrietta (16 June 2011). "Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die". New Statesman. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Armstrong, Stephen (10 December 2008). "Memento mori". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- "Announcing the North American Première of the New BBC Documentary "Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die"". The North American Discworld Convention. 3 June 2011. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
- Taylor, Jerome (15 June 2011). "Author defends film of assisted dying as BBC fields complaints". The Independent. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Pratchett, Terry (18 June 2011). "A week in the death of Terry Pratchett". The Independent. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- "BBC flooded with complaints over Choosing to Die documentary". The Daily Telegraph. 14 June 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Siddique, Haroon (14 June 2011). "Terry Pratchett defends Choosing to Die documentary from critics". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- "Sir Terry Pratchett suicide film prompts 'bias' claims". BBC News. 14 June 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Thomas, Liz; Doughty, Steve (15 June 2011). "Peers in attack on BBC over Dignitas death as they accuse bosses of campaigning to change law on assisted suicide". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- "MP joins debate over euthanasia". News Guardian. 13 June 2011. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
- "Early day motion 2030". United Kingdom Parliament. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
- "BBC to televise assisted suicide". Toronto Sun. 13 June 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Hough, Andrew (14 June 2011). "Sir Terry Pratchett defends BBC assisted suicide film amid backlash". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Sinclair, Joe; Linden, Martha (14 June 2011). "Pratchett defends assisted suicide documentary". The Independent. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- "BAFTA Scotland winners announced". Directors UK Ltd. 14 November 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2011.[permanent dead link]
- "Stars shine at the Scottish Baftas". Evening Times. 14 November 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
- "Fred West drama Appropriate Adult wins RTS awards". BBC News. 21 March 2012. Retrieved 21 March 2012.
- Plunkett, John (21 March 2012). "Channel 4 wins 10 prizes at Royal Television awards". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2012.
- "Television Awards Winners in 2012 - TV Awards - The BAFTA site". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. 27 May 2012. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- "Winners Announced for 40th International Emmy Awards". Broadcasting Cable. 20 November 2012. Retrieved 20 November 2012.