Bioethics News

How should the media cover euthanasia?

Because media coverage of suicide could easily lead to copycat suicides, the World Health Organization has issued a long list of guidelines for journalists. It advises them to: “Avoid language which sensationalizes or normalizes suicide, or presents it as a solution to problems”, “Avoid providing detailed information about the site of a completed or attempted suicide”, and to “Show due consideration for people bereaved by suicide”.

However, campaigns for assisted suicide and euthanasia ignore this. In addition to the headlines in the print media, media organisations are producing YouTube videos which treat assisted dying sympathetically, illustrate clearly how it is carried out, and draw relatives into the story.

In recent months there have been numerous examples. A 29-year-old American woman, Brittany Maynard, made two videos (here and here) with the help of the assisted suicide lobby group Compassion & Choices which were seen by millions of people, before she died through assisted suicide in Oregon. Australia’s SBS network recently filmed a Belgian doctor giving an elderly, depressed woman a lethal injection.

The latest development is a 21-minute video made by The Economist and part-funded by Virgin Unite, a charity financed by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, about a 24-year-old Belgian woman suffering from severe depression who has asked for euthanasia. Anticipating objections, the first frame reads: “Warning. There are some scenes in this film which some viewers may find distressing.” It is a necessary precaution.

Although outwardly normal, Emily is severely troubled. There is a graphic scene in which she displays the scars on her arms from self-mutilation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.