“Time and tide wait for no man, I love you very much Debbie. Goodbye.”
So went the final words (recorded, as he had lost the ability to speak) of Simon Binner, to his wife of 14 years, Debbie. The 57-year-old businessman ended his life on the 19th October last year, his final moments now the subject of a moving documentary broadcast by the BBC last night.
Documenting the last ten months of Simon’s life – culminating with his death in a Swiss euthanasia clinic – How to Die: Simon’s Choice painted a complex picture of a complex issue. While some have criticised it as ‘advertising’ suicide, it made no attempts to depreciate the fact that assisted suicide is complicated and difficult, in this case both for the man who was to die, and the family he left behind.
Following his Motor Neurone Disease diagnosis, Simon was steadfast in his decision that he wanted to end his own life, but his wife Debbie was convinced that it was wrong. Simon’s life was full and happy – the home videos shown in the documentary make this abundantly clear – and although his terminal diagnosis was devastating, he was still enjoying life.
His friends were also concerned, not only that the date he chose was too soon, but that he might change his mind further down the line:
“One worry I have is that Simon has a tendency for the big gesture. This may be the big gesture to end them all … I worry that he will feel locked into it even if he has second thoughts later.”
But Simon didn’t have second thoughts. By the time he arrived at the clinic in Switzerland, he was practically unable to talk, could only walk with great difficulty, and was losing sensation in his hands. Just a couple of weeks before, he had attempted suicide at home.
Although the BBC cut footage of the moment Simon died, his last minutes are broadcast, immersing the audience in what assisted suicide actually means. And, while some have praised the BBC for this – as it “demanded that you think, without forcing you towards any… conclusions” – others have strongly criticised it.
Alister Thompson, from anti-assisted suicide charity ‘Care Not Killing’ told The Daily Mail:
“Showing scenes like that on national television risks skewing what people think about assisted suicide and sidelines the alternatives, such as hospice and palliative care.
It gives the impression that if you’re disabled or terminally ill your life is somehow worthless and you should kill yourself. Suicide is the biggest killer of young men in this country and the more it is normalised, the more people will think of it as a way out.”
But Simon’s wife Debbie believed that the documentary was “beautiful” and showed “the complexities” of the debate around assisted suicide.
“People get these illnesses. It can happen to anyone. It’s so important to have a debate.
I’m not telling anybody what to do we just wanted to show the complex issues and use our experience to help move on the debate.”
The response on Twitter was overwhelmingly positive:
The programme #simonschoice is an incredible illustration of the pros and cons of assisted suicide. Especially for those left behind.
— Jojo Moyes (@jojomoyes) February 10, 2016
What a heartbreaking, dignified, thought provoking & remarkable piece of television #simonschoice was.
— Mark Chapman (@markchapman) February 10, 2016
Saddest thing I’ve ever watched but has definitely assured me that there is definitely a right to die #simonschoice
— Harry Burt (@HarryJBurt) February 10, 2016
So sad, so much still to give, yet Simon Binner has shown that assisted suicide is valid &,for some,necessary Remarkable man #simonschoice
— fiona phillips (@realmissfiona) February 10, 2016
— Hannah Delacour (@HannahDelacour4) February 10, 2016
There is no reason why a competent adult should be denied the ability to choose the time, and place, of their passing #simonschoice
— Dave Jones (@WelshGasDoc) February 10, 2016
— Bearded Wanderers (@BeardyWanderers) February 10, 2016
If you want to watch the documentary, you can find it on BBC iPlayer.
Our thoughts are with Simon’s family and friends.
Image Credits: BBC