Human Exceptionalism

Suicide Friendly TV From the BBC

Is it just me, or does it also seem to you that the popular entertainment is increasingly pro-suicide, assisted suicide, and euthanasia in its themes and plot lines? The latest example, alas, was brought to us by BBC’s Torchwood–one of my favorite programs, a spin-off of another favorite, Dr. Who.

Torchwood follows the trials and tribulations of a secret team of investigators assigned to protect earth from space alien incursions and other unexplainable phenomena. Alright, I know it isn’t an original premise, but the show is lively, well written and acted, edgy, and (sometimes too) sexy.

The episode in question involved a small plane landing in the present, having been brought here due to some kind of time/space anomaly from 1953. The rest of the show follows members of the Torchwood team as they help the time travelers adjust to never being able to return to their own era.

One of the passengers, let’s call him Ted, searches for his family and finds that his wife is long dead and his only son is now an old man dying of Alzheimer’s disease. Distraught, Ted steals a Torchwood Team car, drives to his now abandoned home, parks in the garage, and tries to commit suicide by auto exhaust.

The leader of Torchwood, Capt. Jack, gets there just in time. When Ted is revived, he tells Capt. Jack that he wants to die, that whatever Capt. Jack does, he will kill himself. Jack suggests weakly that he can meet new people, start a family. Ted says he already did that once and now he just wants to die. Well, that settles that! Without further ado, Capt. Jack assists Ted in committing suicide. It is presented as a compassionate and respectful decision, one that Capt. Jack personally disagrees with, but which must be allowed out of respect for Ted’s freedom.

Such terminal nonjudgmentalism (as I call it) is a continual and repeated theme in popular entertainment. Million Dollar Baby has the Clint Eastwood character euthanizing the boxer because she doesn’t believe her life will be worth living with quadriplegia. In Star Trek Voyager, Captain Janeway assists a suicide after going through a nonsense ethical hearing filled with bioethical buzzwords. Law and Order has had several pro-assisted suicide programs involving AIDS and other maladies. And the list goes on. What’s more, I can’t remember the last time I saw a program with suicide prevention as its theme, nor a depiction of the benefit so many receive by being prevented from committing suicide.

I suppose the Hollywood types (yes, I know BBC is in the UK) think such suicide friendly plots are modern and modernity sells. But here’s a sickening thought: Perhaps, rather than influencing the culture, these screen writers and directors are merely reflecting the time in which we live, where our worship of unfettered “choice” is actually a mask for not really giving much of a damn.

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