It’s very rare that a television documentary can move viewers to tears. How to Die: Simon’s Choice did that, however.
This 90-minute BBC film followed the last months of Simon Binner, a successful businessman diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
Binner was clearly the life and soul of the party. He had a wide circle of friends, an active social life and a wife he loved and who loved him.
As motor neurone disease took hold, however, he lost first his voice and then gradually his ability to exert control over his body. He communicated by note and ended up being nursed by an attentive carer, who came in to help him with his everyday needs.
Soon after diagnosis, Binner’s thoughts turned to his end of life plan. He was determined to travel to Switzerland and have an assisted suicide. He did not want the indignity that he expected motor neurone disease to lead to.
His wife was implacably opposed for reasons she stated clearly and unambiguously.
The pair debated the issues around his decision for a considerable part of the film before, eventually, they agreed he would travel to Basel.
The BBC was initially slammed for making a programme that promoted assisted suicide. Most of these criticisms came before the programme even aired, such is the way with many of the BBC’s critics.
In fact, the documentary was well-balanced, taking the trouble to examine the arguments around assisted suicide in fine detail.
One was left with several uncomfortable truths: we all die in the end. Some of us will go abruptly and quickly, others will endure lingering deaths with pain, discomfort or indignity becoming a daily fact of life. In the UK, as the law stands, assisted suicide is not legal.
Simon Binner made his choice and agreed to the documentary being made. While assisted suicide is not a choice all will want to make, the film of his last months addressed arguments on both sides of the debate about assisted suicide. And for that society surely owes him a debt.
Picture copyright: BBC/Minnow Films