Advertising Death

Posted on September 15, 2010


Back in May Channel 4 caused widespread upset by screening the first abortion advertisement ever to be shown in the UK.

This month an Australian TV company banned an advert which appeared to be promoting euthanasia. The advert features a sick-looking man sitting on a bed speaking about different choices he has made during his life. ‘Life is all about choices,’ he tells us, ‘like I chose to go to University and study Engineering, like I. . . chose to always drive a Ford’ and so on, as if the choice to end one’s life were something to be compared to choosing what car to drive, or whether one should eat smooth English mustard or the grainy French variety.

Many people will instinctively feel that there is something sinister about the concept of advertising such things, as if abortion and euthanasia were ‘products’ requiring slick marketing strategies in order to convince people that they need them. The practice of advertising, however, suggests something about those who are trying to sell us these ‘products’. For a long time advocates of liberal abortion legislation have claimed that abortion is a normal medical procedure to which women should be given free access. Normal medical procedures, however, do not need to be advertised on TV. It is difficult to imagine an advert being screened advertising heart bypass operations, for example. ‘Are you having a heart attack? Consider having a bypass operation at your local hospital. Call our user-friendly hotline for more information on 999.’ We are not confronted so much with a medical procedure, but with a choice being promoted for ideological reasons.

The Australian advert makes clear what has previously been obscured by the rhetoric of those promoting the culture of death, who have attempted to ‘sell’ abortion and euthanasia as medical procedures, and to portray those who oppose them as opponents of scientific progress in the healthcare profession. As the Australian advert tells us: ‘life is all about choices’. The choice to kill myself is painted as another choice by which I can define myself, like choosing what clothes to wear or how to style my hair. In a sense there is a kernel of truth in this warped presentation. Human beings, unlike animals, are endowed with both free will and responsibility, and the choices we make during our lives gradually shape the people we become, for better or worse. Yet there is also a false conception of liberty which is being promoted here, one which is prevalent in society today. According to this idea of liberty, freedom lies in the power to be able to do what we want. We must strive to be freer by liberating ourselves from the restraints imposed on us, be they imposed by the government, our own sense of conscience, or even nature itself. Against this, there is a more humane conception of liberty which recognises that true freedom lies not necessarily in being able to choose what we want, but in choosing what is good for us and for others. We must strive to be freer by liberating ourselves, not from any and every authority, but from the influence of forces which seek to pull us in the opposite direction, toward what is harmful for us – bad habits, addictions, and yes, television advertising and other means of social communication which attempt to make evil an attractive, easy option for the suffering and vulnerable.