Radio: When assisted death is legal

BBC World Service

Episode 1: Tuesday 19 February 2013 at 9.05, 13.05, 16.05, 20.05, Wednesday 20 February at 02.05, Saturday 23 February at 19.05, Sunday 24 February at 13.05, also available via the iPlayer

Episode 2: Wednesday 20 February 2013 at 9.05, 13.05, 16.05, 20.05, Thursday 21 February at 02.05, Sunday 24 February at 22.05, also available via the iPlayer after first broadcast

From the programme’s website: “The debate over assisted suicide and euthanasia is a passionate one. But as the discussions continue to rage around the world, there are a few places where assisted death is already legal. Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Oregon and Washington States in the US all have laws permitting assisted suicide or euthanasia in some form. In this two-part documentary for the BBC World Service, actress and broadcaster Liz Carr goes on a personal journey to all six places to see how it works. As a long-standing campaigner against assisted suicide legislation in the UK, she wants to find out what assisted death means in practice – and whether she’s right to be concerned. In part one, Carr travels to Switzerland, where she visits the rooms where volunteers help people die, and finds out why the Swiss law on assisted suicide goes back to the 19th Century. In Belgium she meets a doctor who admits to performing euthanasia before it was legal; and in Luxembourg, she finds out why the law on assisted suicide nearly caused a constitutional crisis. Carr questions whether it is possible to balance the right of the individual who wants to die with the responsibility of society to protect those who don’t. … In part two, Carr visits the Netherlands, where she meets the group behind the ‘mobile euthanasia units’ which hit the headlines last year, and asks whether a law on voluntary life-ending procedures might open the door to involuntary ones. She also visits Oregon and Washington State in the US, where she finds out who is most likely to use the Death with Dignity law, and hears about the cancer patient whose health-care plan refused to pay for chemotherapy – but offered assisted suicide instead.”

In the first episode, Carr states that in Belgium, only euthanasia (termination of life on request) is lawful, and that assisted suicide is therefore not practised (lawfully). It is correct that in Belgium, the Euthanasia Act 2002 allows only physicians to perform euthanasia (understood in the Netherlands as termination of life on request). Assisted suicide is not explicitly covered, but Belgium’s oversight body, the Federal Control and Evaluation Commission (Commission Féderale de Contrôle et Évaluation or CFCE), accepted early on that cases of assisted suicide fall under the law (Commission fédérale de contrôle et d’évaluation de l’euthanasie, Premier rapport aux chambres legislatives (2002–2003), 2004, pp 13–14). Cases of assisted suicide are now reported to the CFCE and reviewed in the same way as cases of termination of life on request. In 2010-2011, eight such cases were reported (out of a total of 2086 cases) (Commission fédérale de contrôle et d’évaluation de l’euthanasie, Cinquième rapport aux chambres legislatives (2010–2011), 2012, p 17).

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