Imbalance was a bitter pill to swallow

Imbalance was a bitter pill to swallow Katie Hannon

Well, here we go again. When allegedly liberal social change is being advanced some elements in the media oblige by pushing carefully selected personal stories, imbalanced discussions and the full panoply of media bias strategies.

It felt like the latest variation of this last week when Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1), with guest presenter Katie Hannon in the chair, dealt with the issue of assisted suicide. It felt like The Softening all over again.

On Monday we had eight callers arguing for assisted suicide, with three against. When they returned to the topic on the Tuesday I was hoping, in my innocence, for some re-balancing, but instead the show started with over 15 minutes of arguments and emotions in favour yet again, from a caller who contributed heavily to the rest of the show and got to challenge those who disagreed.

By the end of the show we had five in favour, two against, with one broadly in favour but concerned about the impact on vulnerable elderly people. In fact, I’d say if euthanasia was legalised elder abuse would reach a whole new level and, if it became acceptable, people would be feeling pressured to shuffle off and not be a burden, even if it was only themselves feeling that in their own minds.

The topic took up about half of Wednesday’s show but by now the topic had shifted to the issue of DNR (‘do not resuscitate’) instructions. The emphasis was on being allowed to die as very distinct from killing, but I thought the distinction wasn’t made clearly enough. One lady did however say she would have given her suffering husband ‘something’ if she could.

By Thursday it really felt like browbeating. This time we had a woman who favoured giving extra doses of morphine even though it would hasten death, not quite the same as euthanasia, but also a man passionately in favour of euthanasia, but then passion and wisdom don’t always coincide. The show finished with him declaring that he was going to “make arrangements for committing suicide” (not immediately), a disturbing end to a week of pressure.

Across the whole discussion I noticed how many pro-euthanasia people referred to people being put ‘asleep’ (a telling euphemism) or treating people as you would an ailing animal.  The frequent use of ‘pro-choice’ arguments or emotions was also significant. On aggregate, I counted an imbalance of 15 to 5 – how can this be fair? Is this RTÉ’s idea of a balanced debate?  How can this be acceptable when the Broadcasting Authority requires impartiality in matters of controversial public debate?

Ironically I discovered later that Tuesday was World Suicide Prevention Day! Sometimes Liveline has its pulse on the mood of the nation, sometimes it manipulates the pulse of the nation, but this time it has to get the tone deaf award of the week.


On Thursday, The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) covered related territory but much more positively and responsibly. With Pat Kenny in discussion with Dr Ursula Bates, principal psychologist at Our Lady’s Hospice and Care Services, the emphasis was mainly on the importance and effectiveness of palliative care and dying with dignity, rather than assisted suicide. The distinction was clear between direct killing and pain relief that might indirectly and unintentionally hasten death and Kenny showed welcome understanding of this ‘double effect’.

Care for those who are unwell is the hallmark of Lourdes, and last Sunday Songs of Praise (BBC1) had a moving programme on this place of healing. Rev. Kate Bottley gave some useful historical background on the shrine that she had visited as a young girl, but the emphasis was on the healing.

She spoke to Kazik Stepan, an Englishman who had been cured of an inoperable tumour when he was 18. He was on the verge of death when friends offered Mass for him in Lourdes. His health improved and soon after he went to Lourdes himself on a stretcher and while there took his first steps. His case is currently under medical review. We got some insight into this process from Dr Alessandro de Franciscis, President of the Medical Bureau attached to the shrine.

It was great to see enthusiastic young pilgrims from the Diocese of Leeds helping the wheelchair bound and growing in their own faith, becoming, as one teen put it, “more comfortable and confident” in the faith. More of that please!



Pick of the week
Channel 4, Sunday, September 22, 12.30 pm

Casually Bart sells his soul to his friend Milhouse, but then feels the emptiness.

EWTN, Sunday, September 22, 5 pm

George Weigel explores the Catholic Church’s clash with the modern world in ‘The Irony of Modern Catholic History’.

Inside the Vatican
BBC2, Friday, September 27, 9 pm

Episode 2: Pope Francis appoints 14 new cardinals and a sex abuse scandal erupts just as the Pope embarks on a historic visit to Ireland.