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Assisted suicide: Documentary showing man's death sparks heated debate

Following the airing of a BBC documentary, presented by Sir Terry Pratchett, which filmed a man's death at the Swiss Dignitas clinic, the debate about whether assisted suicide should be legalised in the UK has been reignited.

The documentary, Choosing to Die, featured Peter Smedley who suffered from Motor Neurone Disease. Mr Smedley, a millionaire, travelled to Switzerland where assisted suicide is not illegal, in order to end his life.

Opponents of assisted suicide claim that the TV programme is "propaganda" for the campaign to legalise assisted suicide. They fear that after watching the show it is "highly likely that copycat suicides will follow".

A bill to make assisted suicide legal in the UK was brought to the House of Lords in 2006, but it was defeated. Baroness Finlay, who strongly opposed the bill, believes that "a change in the law would, for the first time in this country, legalise killing people".

In an 18-month period, 22 people from the UK went to Switzerland to use the Dignitas clinic. And every year in the UK, more than 5,000 people commit suicide. If assisted suicide were legalised in the UK, its opponents fear that many people would prematurely take their lives.

There is also the fear that a change to the law would leave elderly people more vulnerable to unscrupulous family members or carers.

But supporters of assisted suicide claim that the torment and suffering endured by terminally ill people gives them the right to choose when to die.

John Bray, from West Sussex, recently lost his son to cancer and is now demanding that assisted suicide be legalised.

He said: "I feel strongly that those who, for whatever reason, oppose assisted death should see for themselves exactly what torment those who desire a speedy release from their suffering actually go through."

Should assisted suicide be legalised in the UK? Give your opinion in the FindLaw Community.

Related links:
Read more on this story (BBC)
Read the assisted suicide guidelines (FindLaw)
Find local specialist solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)