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BBC's latest comedy offering: assisted suicide

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18th January 2013

Another example of institutional bias, a welcome opening of debate - or just plain bad taste?

Last night, 16 January, BBC3 aired the first episode of its newly commissioned comedy, Way to Go. Starring Inbetweeners favourite Blake Harrison, the series has attracted controversy for its subject matter: two brothers, in financial straits, decide to set up an 'assisted suicide' business.

We like comedy, and we acknowledge that different people have different tastes, but a key part of our mission is to influence public perceptions of end of life issues, and the BBC must ensure that it produces considered material that drives no political or ideological agenda.

  • We are concerned that this will prove to be yet another example of institutional support for assisted suicide/euthanasia by a supposedly impartial organisation.
  • We are also concerned that there is substantial potential that those with experience of difficult end of life decisions - be they are patients or family, be they opposed to or supportive of assisted suicide/euthanasia - will find that such a sitcom trivialises their pain and distress.
  • We are further concerned about the serious risk that vulnerable viewers may be influenced to end their own lives.

Once the six-part series has concluded, we will assess it on the basis of the following four criteria:

  • The World Health Organisation's guidelines on suicide portrayal clearly state that the media should not 'glorify or sensationalize suicide', with concern that ill-conceived portrayals may lead to suicide contagion. How closely does the BBC follow such guidance? The Samaritans have also issued guidance on dramatic portrayals and suicide contagion.
  • The BBC has a poor record when it comes to impartiality on the issue of assisted suicide (click here for an extensive list of examples). Is this series, starring popular actors on a channel primarily aimed at younger people, seeking to drive a political agenda?
  • Assisted suicide is a sensitive issue, and all those who must deal with important end of life decisions- whatever conclusions they reach - deserve respect. Would you describe Way to Go's scripts, direction and acting as sensitive, respectful and balanced?
  • Finally, is assisted suicide ever a suitable topic for television comedy, even if only used as an innovative context?

We contend that legalising assisted suicide/euthanasia will place many vulnerable people under pressure to consider these 'options'; holistic palliative care with adequate resources is the truly compassionate answer. Trivialising an illegal activity in the name of comedy is unjustifiable, and we will watch this series carefully.

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