Bishop of Exeter's comments on BBC Choosing to Die programme
The Bishop of Exeter the Rt Revd Michael Langrish took part in a
BBC2 Newsnight debate on Monday June 13 following the BBC
programme 'Choosing to Die' presented by Sir Terry
Pratchett. His main comments from the debate are below:
"I did not change my mind (after seeing the programme) but my expectations changed. I expected I would disagree with the outcome and expected to welcome the film as a contribution to a really important debate but the more I watched it the more concerned and indeed disturbed I became by it. It was very one-sided, a nod to hospice care but no showing the alternative ending, no indication that the two principals Peter and Andrew needn't have been living the life they were leading and right at the end I questioned the whole ethical basis of programme. I felt that Peter and indeed his wife and perhaps Terry Pratchett as well had been caught up and become trapped in the storyline of programme. I felt there was a deeply coercive atmosphere in room in the end and I felt quite emotionally blackmailed by it."
"I think Terry makes a very important distinction talking about the dignity of life - (I prefer dignity to sanctity) - dignity is about what gives worth to every human life. It has to bear on every life not just on a few and my problem here with the emphasis on choice, is that it is alright for us here who have a choice. But take someone like my daughter whose experience of life is having others making choices for her, she's just had her house sold around her with very little choice; it leaves you with a poor sense of self esteem and self worth. What for me gives dignity of life is to say, each of us has a value for what we are not what we do, it's not an instrumental thing and we also find our value in a network of social and community relationships. I want so see much more emphasis on supporting people in living rather than assisting them in dying."
"One of the things that really worried me was right at the end (I realise we probably saw an edited version) Peter lifted the glass of poison and said 'when do I take it?'. I think many doctors, priests, counsellors who had been present at that point would have thought hang on, there's a moment of hesitation here. And the answer was do whatever you want …."
"On the whole I think the law is clear and the guidelines do broadly work. At present suicide is not a crime but it is not a right. The law still enshrines that sense of the intrinsic value of life. But the law ultimately is not there to constrain individual choice. It's there to constrain third party action and complicity in another person's death. That remains illegal, there maybe ameliorating circumstances that can be taken in to account. But the law remains clear and is there to protect the vulnerable. It seems to me the very basis of English law is there to do two things. It is there to protect the vulnerable in society and should give expression to the deepest values that our society holds."
"I would want to talk about good dying and would love to challenge BBC to do a similar documentary tracking someone like the cabbie through to a good death."
See also the Protecting Life area of our website