BSkyB defends assisted-suicide airing

Pro-life groups call death broadcast 'a reality stunt'

LONDON -- British Sky Broadcasting has defended its decision to go ahead with the planned broadcast of the death by assisted suicide of a 59-year-old motor-neuron disease sufferer despite criticism from pro-life groups who branded the program "a reality stunt."

The broadcast, on Sky's Real Lives channel, shows the death of U.S.-born academic Craig Ewert in September 2006 after taking sedatives and switching off his ventilator at the controversial assisted-suicide center Dignitas in Switzerland. Such actions are unlawful under British law.

The show was set to air Wednesday and is thought to be the first time a person's death by suicide has been shown on British television.

Filmed by award-winning director John Zaritsky, Ewert is shown explaining his decision to take the drug cocktail and end his life in front of cameras.

"I'd like to continue. The thing is that I really can't. When you are completely paralyzed, can't talk, can't walk, can't move your eyes, how do you let someone know that you are suffering?" he is seen to say.

Critics have praised the program, while BSkyB said the issue has been "sensitively handled," claiming that the account of Ewert's life and death was "an honest and impartial account of a difficult matter."

But the planned broadcast has caused controversy in the U.K. as more people seek to be able to make decisions about their end-of-life care.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged broadcasters to treat the issue "sensitively and without sensationalism," and said it was for regulators to assess the show.

"I hope broadcasters remember that they have a wider duty to the general public, and of course it will be a matter for the television watchdogs when the broadcast is shown," he told Parliament during Prime Minister's Question Time.

Earlier, Peter Saunders, director of the campaign group Care Not Killing, branded the show a "cynical attempt to boost television ratings."