Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

Paving the way for assisted suicide

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 11 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a3010
  1. Daniel K Sokol, lecturer in medical ethics and law, St George’s, University of London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}

    Sky Television’s documentary showing an assisted suicide has provoked a storm in UK tabloids, but the medical ethicist Daniel K Sokol says it has reinforced his belief in the moral permissibility of helping people die in exceptional circumstances

    On 10 December a controversial documentary showed the suicide of Craig Ewert, a 59 year old man with motor neurone disease (Sky Real Lives, 9 pm). We see Craig in an apartment in Zurich, surrounded by his wife and a social worker, switch off his time controlled ventilator. Unable to press the switch with his fingers, he does so with his teeth. The social worker hands him a potion of sodium pentobarbital. “Mr Ewert,” he says, “if you drink this you’re going to die.” Craig sucks the liquid through a straw and grimaces. He asks for apple juice to wash away the unpleasant taste. At his request, the first movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony resounds around the room. “Thank you,” he says after finishing the cocktail. The camera is fixed on Craig. Gradually his eyes close. He falls asleep.

    The documentary, Right to Die?, follows two couples in their search for a peaceful death with the aid of the Swiss group Dignitas: Craig and Mary Ewert and George and Betty Coumbias. Unlike Craig, septuagenarian George was not …

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