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BBC to explore assisted suicide question in new documentary

Simon BinnerHow to Die: Simon’s Choice is a one-off 90-minute observational documentary telling the remarkable and poignant story of one man facing the unimaginable decision of whether to end his life at a suicide clinic. 

The documentary comes from Minnow Films for the BBC, by filmmakers Rowan Deacon (Our War: Goodbye Afghanistan) and Colin Barr (Life And Death Row), and is made in partnership with The Open University.

The film was shot against the backdrop of the recent parliamentary debate on assisted suicide, with powerful arguments being made both in favour and against. Though this might have just been a speculative debate for some of us – for Simon Binner it was a matter of dying with dignity and being in control of his life for as long as possible.

Simon, whose story went public and became the subject of media attention following his death last year, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of motor neurone disease in January 2015 and given two years to live. After telling his loved ones that he is considering ending his life at a suicide clinic it Switzerland, Simon, his family and friends grapple with huge moral, emotional and legal dilemmas around his choice, and, as this observational documentary shows, their conflicting perspectives mean that his heart-wrenching decision lies in the balance until the very end.

His story explores the complex questions at the heart of this deeply divisive issue. Even his wife Debbie has very mixed feelings, at some point in the film saying: “I’ve always been quite anti-assisted dying. It’s one of those dinner-party conversations you have, never dreaming that you’d ever actually be having the conversation.”

Patrick Holland, BBC Head of Documentary Commissioning, says: “This is a hugely important and powerful film about one of the most contentious issues facing families in the UK. Simon, his wife, family and friends have allowed us into their lives as they face one of the biggest dilemmas imaginable. Together they confront the terrible choices involved with love and humbling candour.”

Adam Barker, BBC Two Channel Editor, says: “BBC Two has a strong track record of showing ambitious, compelling authored singles, such as Vanessa Engle’s film on domestic violence or Robb Leech’s film, Welcome to the Mosque, and we’re very proud to be bringing this thought-provoking film from award-winning filmmakers Rowan Deacon and Colin Barr to the channel. The film sensitively explores the issue of assisted suicide with intimate access to one family facing up to one of the toughest decisions there is to make.”

How to Die: Simon’s Choice is currently set to air on BBC Two on 10 February 2016. 


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Alexandra Zeevalkink is a Dutch-born journalist living in London who founded DocGeeks in August 2011 in order to have a legitimate excuse to watch every documentary under the sun. She freelances for various publications and writes mainly about documentaries and the film production industry. When she is not blogging or watching films, she enjoys theater, photography and reading loads of books. She is always on the look out for potential partnerships with other creative minds.

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