Webcast archive: The propaganda of HBO

This week, we discuss a new documentary series on the HBO network.

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:

  • HBO: the “debate” is nothing but propaganda
  • An athlete considers euthanasia after the Paralympic games

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.


  • HBO’s Vice documentary series recently presented “Right to Die,” a 27-minute “debate” on assisted suicide.
  • Less than two minutes of the program was dedicated to opposition to assisted suicide.  The segment implied that the opposition in the U.S. was led by the Catholic church, and didn’t even mention that disability rights organizations oppose the policy.  The correspondent did admit that there is “some evidence” of a slippery slope in Belgium and the Netherlands.
  • The documentary, narrated by correspondent Vikram Gandhi, is centered around the assisted suicide of Antoinette Westerink, a Dutch woman with a “personality disorder” whose euthanasia is shown during the segment.  Ms. Westerink sees herself as a butterfly preparing to emerge from a chrysalis, and has no regrets about her impending death.  However, her adult son and daughter are upset that the psychiatrist who approved her euthanasia did so after only three meetings, and did not consult her family before making the determination.
  • During the segment, Vikram Gandhi speaks to Christina Symonds, a person who is as yet minimally affected with ALS.  As he introduces her, images of “Late stage ALS ‘patients’” are shown; a person in a Hoyer lift, and others in hospital beds using external breathing assistance.
  • Symonds shows her fear of becoming disabled when she says: “The only thing you’ll be able to move, in the end, are your eyeballs. I don’t want to go through that horror. And I certainly don’t want to put my kids through that.”
  • Her husband Teddy Symonds adds: “She doesn’t want to sit back and be taken care of and be wiped and be fed.  She wants to go ‘I’m done. It’s not getting any better.  Whatever was gonna work is not working anymore and that’s where I draw the line.’  And if you have that ability, it’s power.”
  • Ned Delojsi from the California Catholic Conference is quoted twice, for a total of just over a minute  (46 seconds then 20 seconds).  Though he devotes most of his time to speaking about the danger for vulnerable persons, his remarks about faith are used first, to discredit him to the secular audience.  Later, Theo Boer raises questions about the dramatic increase in euthanasia in the Netherlands during his 40-second on-screen appearance.
  • Nelojsi’s interview is followed by a quote from Christy O’Donnell, a person with cancer who uses a wheelchair and states “When they are sitting in this chair with a stage IV diagnosis and a child that they’re leaving or a husband that they love, then they can make their own decision.”  Unfortunately the producers did not speak to those disabled people who are “sitting in this chair” yet still oppose assisted suicide.
  • Howard Glick, another person with a degenerative disease also expresses his fears over becoming disabled. “What do I want to do, waste away in a wheelchair? Not even recognizing my children? Never mind the cost involved.”
  • As in many similar documentaries, the producers seemed to have their minds made up on the issue before they began to explore it, and so neglected to portray the arguments against assisted suicide and euthanasia fairly.  They played upon public fears of becoming disabled, using the term “dignity” as the opposite of disability, and implying that the only way to retain control in one’s life was to have assisted death.
  • In addition, the producers made it clear that usual methods of suicide were unacceptable substitutes for the help of a medical practitioner, nor did they describe what happens when complications arise during assisted suicides and euthanasia.  Instead, they promoted the suicide kits marketed by Derek Humphry, the founder of the Hemlock Society.
  • The segment also downplayed the objections of doctors who oppose the practice as a violation of the principles of palliative care, lumping them in with the religious opposition.
  • This is an excellent piece of propaganda, but not journalism..


  • Marieke Vervoort is a Belgian sprinter participating in the Paralympic games in Rio.  She won gold and silver medals at the 2012 London Paralympics.
  • She has declared that the Rio games will be her last, and says she is considering euthanasia because of the pain caused by her degenerative disease.
  • As a citizen of Belgium, Vervoort may be eligible for euthanasia under one of the world’s most liberal laws.  She must convince two doctors that she has “constant and unbearable” physical or psychological suffering that cannot be alleviated, and that there is “no reasonable alternative” to the situation.