Ending on Primetime

He was made into a corpse in a moratorium even before he died. His body went limp and the world saw it. They paid to watch it as the images flickered and the TV dinner or the evening drink in their hands shook a bit.

BBC1’s primetime documentary, 'Inside the Human Body', used Gerald a cancer patient on live television. He died in January, but they showed his last breath moment yesterday. Was it right?

A BBC spokesman defended it:

“Death is an important part of the human experience, and showing Gerald’s death is integral to understanding what happens to the body when it is no longer able to function properly. The BBC does not shy away from difficult subjects like this, but presents them in a sensitive and appropriate manner.”

If that were the motive, then it would have been proper to show his x-rays, the scans, and 3-D images of the affected parts. However sensitively it might have been portrayed, this is not much different from reality television and a bit more devious. In those shows you know someone is putting on an act or exaggerating or whose buttons are being pushed. Here, Gerald’s death was played out for two months. Indeed, the ‘experience’ of death lasted this long as his lung and liver degenerated.

Death is not part of the human experience; it is the end of it for the person concerned.

Gerald was approached last November. he had said then:

“I don't want to die but evidently, unless some miracle happens, I ain't going to be here very long so let's get on with my life as best I can. I'm not frightened. I believe it will not be just like cutting off tape with some scissors. It might be, but either way I just have blind trust I shall not completely disappear.”

Why was he approached? Are news channels in charge of such experiments? How do they choose their guinea pigs? He was probably told that what he was going through would help others. Do the ratings of the programme reveal any education on the part of the viewers? I can imagine sympathy and fear…the stuff you get in soaps and increasingly in news stories. But when there is no cure for last-stage cancer, the emphasis should be on finding out how to improve lives, not to get people to accept the inevitable and do a sightseeing tour of what happens to the body. Especially not the skin and flesh and eyes and smile.

I do not buy into the argument that people are accustomed to seeing gunshots and blown-up brains on TV shows and films. I might add that we see such deaths in real encounters too. The two are examples of fiction and reality. Not the in-between situation of Gerald. I would have understood an interview with him where he spoke about what tormented him, but not this. Certainly not this.

Recently, some guy had put up a line on his Facebook account that he was going to kill his son ‘now’ and he did. He had taken him from his estranged wife for the day. These have become the new YouTube fantasies, where people who would otherwise have lived and died as most do want to become public figures. There is no dearth of takers. In Gerald’s case, we are told that he was 84, as though it lessens the pain in any manner. In the picture as he breathed his last his family is shown weeping.

Many viewers might have done so too. This does not mean it is one big family joined together in sorrow. It means for those who were not close to him an end to a show.

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