The death of a man who was helped to commit suicide at the controversial Dignitas clinic in Switzerland was broadcast by Sky Television last night.
Craig Ewert, 59, suffered with motor neurone disease and wanted to end his life.
His wife Mary said he had decided to allow the moment of his death to be screened “to demonstrate what actually happens, so that people could see it was very peaceful, that it was a rational decision on his part”.
However, the pro-life Care Not Killing alliance have called the broadcast a “cynical attempt to boost television ratings”.
It has fuelled the current debate over the issue, which yesterday drew a comment from Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Parliament.
Mr Brown said: “I believe that it is necessary to ensure that there is never a case in this country where a sick or elderly person feels under pressure to agree to an assisted death or somehow feels it is the expected thing to do.
“That is why I have always opposed legislation for assisted deaths.”
He added that Sky’s decision to screen the event was a matter for the broadcasting watchdog, but said: “I think it’s very important that these issues are dealt with sensitively and without sensationalism”.
John Beyer, of Mediawatch-UK, commented on the broadcast: “This subject is quite an important political issue at the moment and my anxieties are that the programme will influence public opinion.
“Broadcasters must always remain impartial, otherwise they could influence the public or other sufferers into making a similar action. That’s my anxiety.”
The Government has included a review of the law on assisted suicide in its plans for the coming year, and some MPs are calling for the law to be “updated” to distinguish between “assisting suicide and assisting the death of a mentally competent terminally ill adult”.
But Dr Peter Saunders of the Care Not Killing alliance said: “The danger is that we start to believe in a story that there is such a thing as a life not worth living.
“A change in the law would put pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives so as not to be a burden.”