SBS: You must do better!

SBS will be broadcasting yet another British Documentary on assisted suicide this Sunday the 24th of April. I have not seen the documentary but it was widely panned by our colleagues in the UK when it first screened there.

In promoting the documentary, the SBS website carries a page on their 'Guide' section purporting to examine the issues around euthanasia and assisted suicide. The article: 10 things you didn't know about the right to die debate creates more confusion.

Below is my complaint to the SBS network:


To whom it may concern,

I write to complain about the article on your Guide webpages that serve as a teaser and introduction to the program: Simon's Choice, screening on Sunday, 24 April at 8.45pm.


This article contains significant factual errors, unsubstantiated claims and a clear bias in favour of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

In the preamble, your writer, Jenna Martin, makes some curious and even non-coherent points:

As it stands, euthanasia is illegal in Australia though there is currently a bill before parliament that - if it passed - would make it a state, not a government matter, possibly opening the way for some sort of legalisation in the future.

This makes no sense at all. Which state? What is a matter of the 'state' if not also a 'government matter'. The bill IS legislation and, if passed would become law at that point and not 'in the future'.

There are obviously many complicated arguments on either side, but the reality is, whilst governments the world over go back and forth over the legalities, many people are suffering unnecessarily slow and painful deaths.

Many? What does 'unnecessarily slow and painful' mean. I challenge SBS and the author to qualify this broad statement. Moreover, it is a loaded statement that, at the very least, should have acknowledged that good pain relief is possible and available. As it stands, this statement declares a clear bias.

On Sunday 24 April, How to Die: Simon's Choice airs at 8.45pm (AEST) on SBS. It is the story of a British man for whom death was inevitable, which made dying on his terms all the more important. Following Simon and his family from diagnosis to death, it's a heartbreaking yet life-affirming look at the importance of valuing the quality of someone's life over the sanctity of it.

The writer seeks to define the debate by creating a false and impossible dichotomy between sanctity and quality. These ideas are not mutually exclusive and this statement betrays a breathtaking lack of understanding of the issue.

Terminology certainly matters; which is why it should be an embarrassment to SBS and a sham in terms of this presentation that even these terms have escaped proper scrutiny:

EUTHANASIA involves a doctor legally administering a fatal dose of medication.

This is an incomplete statement. Intention is not mentioned, which is critical for the death to be caused by euthanasia. A more typical definition: Euthanasia an act causing death, usually by lethal injection for compassionate reasons.

ASSISTED SUICIDE enables someone who might be incapacitated but isn't necessarily dying to have assistance when choosing death over life, ie, someone with a disability or the elderly.

This is way off beam. Assisted suicide is prohibited in law and involves the 'aiding, abetting or counselling' by a third party towards the suicide death of a person. The definition has nothing at all to say about health, capacity and, least of all, being disabled of elderly.

ASSISTED DYING allows the terminally ill person to have a say over the timing and manner of their imminent death.

Assisted dying is a term invented by the pro-euthanasia lobby to soften the terminology by removing both 'euthanasia' and 'suicide' from the lexicon. The definition you offer isn't even close to what even the pro-euthanasia lobby use it for. In short; this is not a phrase that adds any clarity to the debate and only confirms a bias. Nor is it a 'third way' as seems to be being suggested by your author.

A few other observations:

There are also cases in the UK and Ireland where courts have ruled against the will of the dying and dictated that any spouse, relative or friend who assists in another person's death will be charged with a criminal offence.

The courts have not ruled 'against the will of the dying'. That is a very negative and pejorative rendering. The courts have upheld the existing prohibitions on assisting in suicide, that is all.

Euthanasia in some ways happens anyway, through Do Not Resuscitate orders and through doctors and families deciding to let nature simply take its course. Regulating doctor/patient rights regarding end of life simply makes it easier and less painful for all involved.

The refusal of burdensome and futile treatment and Do Not Resuscitate orders have nothing to do with euthanasia at all. In fact, they constitute good medical practice that takes into account the patient's choices and their condition.

That euthanasia actually saves lives. A 2012 study into the NHS in Britain found that 57,000 people die without the knowledge the doctors have given up all hope of saving them - they are just left, waiting for their time to run out. Essentially that means that doctors are already killing patients without their express permission- having euthanasia laws in place would protect the rights of the dying to die if and when they choose.

I fail to find any logic in this statement. The suggestion is that doctors are abandoning their patients and ignoring their needs at the end of life. There is nothing in the study that confirms this. Even if there was some evidence, the proper response is to deliver better, personal care.

Please also note that there is no bill before the Senate at the moment. The parliament was prorogued ahead of the recent special sitting, meaning that all bills were simply wiped off the notice paper. In any case, the bill that was presented did not 'return euthanasia legislation back to the states', in fact, it attempted to restore the ability to legislate to the two self-governing territories.

I can find no reference to either euthanasia or assisted suicide being legal in Albania.

Columbia adopted euthanasia laws in March 2015, not assisted suicide/dying as suggested (although, wherever euthanasia is practiced we can usually find some cases of assisted suicide).

Japan does not have assisted suicide/dying. One court precedent exists that could be seen to allow euthanasia although there has been no legislative framework and no reports of euthanasia being promoted or used.

In all of the above I suggest that SBS has not contributed to the debate in a way befitting a national broadcaster. I find this particularly upsetting given the excellent work done last year by Calliste Wittenberg and Brett Mason in the SBS Dateline documentary.

Broadly speaking, I have no objection to SBS nor any other media outlet covering this most important debate. However, obfuscating the facts and displaying bias does not contribute to the sum total of public understanding in any way that could be said to contribute. You have an obligation to do better.


Paul Russell

Director: HOPE: preventing euthanasia & assisted suicide Inc

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