As Bernard Keane pointed out in yesterday’s Crikey, the decision by Free TV Australia to ban an advertisement by voluntary euthanasia group Exit International raises serious questions about the role of the industry body in ruling what can and cannot go to air.
However, I dont think that the Exit International advertisement falls into the same category as previously-rejected advertisements involving campaigns for East Timor and the environment. Those campaigns are clear-cut free speech issues. The Exit International advertisement is directed at government and calls for legislative changes but of course, politicians would not be the only viewers.
There is now widespread recognition of the need for responsible media practice in reporting suicide, because of the potential impact on emotionally vulnerable viewers. That’s not censorship — that’s responsible reporting and representation. Many would agree with Exit International’s belief that the desire of terminally ill patients to end their torment is not irrational, suicidal thinking. But it could touch a nerve in others as well.
I am not a mental health professional, but I can envisage that the “life’s all about choices” script for the Exit International advertisement could rationalise suicidal thoughts by viewers with treatable mental illnesses. The lines repeating that the patient didn’t choose to undergo all the torments of a terminal illness could easily mutate into “I didn’t choose to lose my job”…”I didn’t choose to be dumped by my spouse”…”I didn’t choose loneliness and isolation” and lead to the same conclusion: “I’ve made my final choice”. It must be possible to produce an advertisement lobbying for Exit International’s policies that does not risk normalising suicide more generally.
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Life’s all about choices — not really. I didn’t choose to have multiple sclerosis. No-one does. And some of those who have it thrust upon them want the euthanasia choice. But I’m not convinced that euthanasia really is a choice. Not in a society that disempowers the old, the sick and the disabled.
I hate the thought of what may lie ahead. Of lying on a hospital bed (again) being asked to rate the pain on a scale of one to ten. I never know how to answer how bad is ten, anyway? I live in dread of saying ten and then finding that like the amps in Spinal Tap, this goes to eleven.
And I’m vain. I’m not just afraid of what I may undergo, but also of what I may become. I don’t want to be dependent, unproductive, a burden. I want to be strong, an achiever, low-maintenance to be around. Exit International and I are both products of a culture that privileges youth, health and bodily perfection, and recoils from bodies that are diseased, aged, or otherwise imperfect. This is not a culture in which euthanasia is an autonomous choice. And Exit International’s literature feeds prejudices that we ought to fight to overcome.