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ss triple helix - spring 2013,  BBC TV sitcom on assisted suicide

BBC TV sitcom on assisted suicide

Is this the 'Way to Go'?

Review by Andrew Fergusson - Chair, Advisory Group, Care Not Killing Alliance

When the BBC announced (1) it was to air a six-episode 'black comedy' about assisted suicide on BBC3, its channel orientated towards young people, there was outcry, Conservative MP Mark Pritchard slamming it for turning suicide into a joke. (2) Care Not Killing, in which CMF remains active, expressed concern but announced it would reserve judgment until the series had concluded.

CNK would assess Way to Go under four criteria: (3) does the programme follow World Health Organisation guidance not to 'glorify and sensationalise suicide' and thus risk suicide contagion; does it follow the BBC's track record on this subject and drive an apparent political agenda; is it respectful towards those who face these sensitive matters in real life; and can assisted suicide ever be a suitable topic for TV comedy, even when only used as an innovative context?

How has Way to Go done? It is important to realise it is not a serious treatment of euthanasia and assisted suicide, the BBC has done plenty of that – albeit one-sidedly 4 - but a surreal excuse for a storyline about three lads in financial straits. Superficially seeming to accept that assisted suicide is down to individual choice, the four deaths so far actually demonstrate CNK's concerns.

No-one seeking death appears ill, and presumably these unconvincing portrayals are intentional, to maintain the unreal comedy feel. Three are older men, socially isolated – indeed another older man in a care home abandons his plan when softhearted Scott arranges sexual services for him and he discovers a reason for living.

A younger woman said to have terminal cancer and less than six months to live has symptoms which appear to be mainly existential. Each moment of dispatch is glossed over so that no viewer could take it seriously, and its illegality is stressed throughout with the potential 14-year sentence mentioned frequently. The series ends with a cliff-hanger: will the lads get caught?

Ethical considerations aside, the series makes depressing viewing for its worldview of casual sex, drug-taking, and trivialised criminality. This reviewer cannot recommend it, but to the extent it treats a hot topic, the case against comes out clearly on top. Neither legalising assisted suicide nor making a comedy about it is the way to go.

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