IT was all too predictable.
“ITV is to screen a documentary which shows the moment a victim of Alzheimer’s disease dies,” announced the Daily Mail last week.
As night follows day, we were then treated to a quote from John Beyer of “pressure group” Mediawatch UK.
“There is a certain dignity in death that is not appropriate for people to gawp at on television,” he said.
Had Mr Beyer actually seen the programme? That’ll be a no, then.
The story spread. Commentators dived into the argument, quick to condemn.
One spoke of an intrusive camera crew filming at the moment of Malcolm Pointon’s death.
The headline? Death on television is all about ratings.
“They are calling it the last taboo. The ultimate fly on the wall documentary,” he wrote.
“ITV is to broadcast the precise moment a victim of Alzheimer’s disease dies.”
Except it isn’t.
If those quick to leap to conclusions had taken the time to check their facts, they’d have discovered the truth about Malcolm and Barbara: Love’s Farewell.
Firstly, veteran film maker Paul Watson worked alone with a single camera. There was no “camera crew”.
Secondly, while there are death bed scenes, he did not film “the moment a victim of Alzheimer’s disease dies”.
After yet another writer condemned the film for screening the moment of death, Malcolm’s brother Graham decided to put the record straight.
“From the moment someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness, technicaly, that person is dying,” he wrote.
“In the new film, we see my brother, Malcolm Pointon, dying.
“We do not see him die – filming finished three days before Malcolm stopped breathing, so the argument about the ethics of showing this on television, while important, does not apply in this case.
“I was there on the Monday before Malcolm’s death, and heard Paul say, as he left, that he had enough material for the film, and would now leave the family in peace.
“He did not return that week. Malcolm died on the following Thursday morning.”
I’ve spoken to ITV today and they confirm that is exactly what happened.
The new film, to be screened at 9pm on Wednesday August 8, is an updated version of an acclaimed documentary first broadcast in 1999.
That was when I last wrote about Malcolm and his devoted wife Barbara.
Watching the revised film last week, it was clear that critics had written in ignorance of its actual content.
Perhaps some were misled by an ITV press release for the programme.
It stated: “The film ends when Barbara calls Paul to ask him to come as Malcolm is about to die. In moving scenes Malcolm is surrounded by his family and Barbara strokes his head as he passes away.”
Some may argue that implies the precise moment of death was filmed.
There are also questions about material shown at an ITV press screening which may have led journalists to believe the actual death was to be broadcast.
But surely you would want to check the facts before launching into print?
You can read more about the last chapter in Malcolm’s story in the MEN feature here.
That so-called “last taboo” was actually confronted in June 1998.
The Human Body: End Of Life showed the final moments of German-born antiques dealer Herbie Mowes, who had been suffering from stomach cancer.
His wish was to help others come to terms with death.
Some protested. Most recognised the film for what it was.
“Watching a film of this quality and delicacy is not voyeurism,” said presenter Robert Winston.
“If it were, it would be diminishing personality and, of course, ourselves.
“On the contrary, we are celebrating a special individual, and if, in the process, we learn a little more about death itself, we augment his memory.”
Winston also spoke out about journalists who had tried to “sensationalise” the decision to broadcast Herbie’s demise on screen.
“I find this depressing, indeed outrageous.”
Both The End of Life and Malcolm and Barbara: Love’s Farewell are among the finest pieces of television I have ever seen.
In terms of the latter, those who were all too quick to criticise might like to turn their attention to an issue which is still very much alive.
“Alzheimer’s is not seen as an illness,” says Barbara. “We all get a bit forgetful as we get older, and so on. And it’s minimized.
“You have to be almost at death’s door before they give people with Alzheimer’s continuing care.
“I do know that the government has earmarked money for carer’s respite. Now which black hole has that money gone into? I haven’t seen any of it.
“The government is saying that the GPs will no longer look after people in care homes. The care homes are going to have to buy in private doctors. Now what sort of state have we got into?
“In our local hospital, there are now more administrators than there are beds. If they want to save some money, then have a look at the pen-pushers.
“Carers’ goodwill is being exploited. They know that we won’t give up. We’ll carry on to the bitter end, even if it costs our own health or social life or whatever.
“Carers save the state £57 billion a year. More than the NHS budget.
“The state can afford free care for everybody, where there’s political will – where is the money for the most vulnerable members of our society?”
*Tue July 31 update: Having first contacted ITV yesterday and subsequently received confirmation of the true facts, the network today put out a general statement of clarification. More details here.
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ITV To Screen Death Of Alzheimer’s Victim
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