A Line Has Just Been Drawn for Human Dignity


"The Discovery Channel has provided for many years valuable documentary programming focused primarily on popular science, technology and history. With this backdrop in mind, I find it incredulous that Discovery would exploit the recent death of Michael Jackson to increase their viewership at the expense of the integrity and positive educational track record of their network. The insensitivity and unprofessional tabloid approach that Discovery has decided to pursue is not only hurtful to the future of the network, but is deeply hurtful to the Jackson family, friends, colleagues and millions of supporters throughout the world... Please re-consider airing this dreadful re-enactment." ~Statement from Stuart Backerman, Former Press Spokesman for Michael Jackson


"L.A. County Coroner Ed Winter joins the criticism of the Discovery Network's upcoming special reenacting Michael Jackson's autopsy. Discovery Producers asked him for an interview earlier this year to describe the autopsy: "I told them no, we had no interest in doing it and it was a pending case... I think it's unprofessional and I wouldn't do it out of respect for the family." ~Assistant Chief Coroner, LA


"Dear Sir, As a personal friend and previous physician to Michael Jackson for some years, I would like to also add my name to the growing number of people who feel that the special show to air in the UK on January 13th called “Michael Jackson’s Autopsy: What Really Killed Michael Jackson,” is being done for the wrong reasons and transgresses the boundaries of prudence and good taste. Autopsies, either forensic or academic should only be performed for legal or medical purposes, rather than for entertainment. A forensic autopsy should be only performed, as in this case, whenever the cause of death may be a criminal matter and this is the reason you do not intend this production within the US jurisdiction. Your show debases what is accepted decent behaviour within legal and medical practice in western civilisation since possibly two and a half millennia. Forensic autopsies have been performed under established clear regulatory parameters since 150 BC, including that of Julius Caesar in 44BC, which showed the second stab wound was the fatal one. Permission is normally required from next of kin is usually required for autopsy, although in this case you are circumventing this by use of a synthetic cadaver. There is a copy of the official coroner’s report on public record so I don’t presume the viewers will learn anything new from your production. It seems to me that the Discovery Channel is attempting to cash in on the misfortune of mythically famous cultural icon, with no respect either for human decency or the feelings of his children. Shame on you, ~Dr. Patrick Treacy, Medical Director-- Ailesbury Clinics Ltd., Dublin,


Congratulations, Discovery. You just helped the light of human dignity to shine a little brighter. We thank you for your conscious action.


You were about to cross a line of human decency, worth, privacy and respect for life had you gone ahead with your planned re-enactment of Michael Jackson's autopsy using a realistic synthetic cadaver that approximated his body. Discovery, you have shown courage and decency in the cancellation of the programs you planned to air from January 13, through January 16, 2011 in Europe.


Official statement from the Executors about Discovery’s change of heart:

"The Estate of Michael Jackson is pleased that Discovery Channel made the correct decision in choosing to cancel this exploitative program. We are hopeful that this show will never run in any market in the future. While Discovery cited legal proceedings and our request as the reasons for its decision, none of this would have happened had it not been for the incredible passion displayed by countless Michael Jackson fans worldwide who knew they stood as one and that their voices could not be ignored." ~John Branca, Executor for Michael Jackson's estate.


The real question is: How did we arrive here anyway?

We would now ask them to consider what kind of cultural "norm" might have prompted them to think the unthinkable, or plan the unacceptable and we invite them, as well as all other media, to seriously consider examining their policies and what they consider ethical programming standards.


You may be hearing more from us-- the crazy ones who stand up for sanity and human dignity. We invite you to stand with us.


Michael Jackson was a human being. He was a father, a brother, and a son. He was also loved by millions around the world.


We believe in the worth and dignity of every human being. Nobody deserves to be treated in a way that dehumanizes them-- not in life, and certainly not in death.


This could have ended in a much different way. Now comes a re-examination of standards that inform the cultural narrative on this planet.

Never before in the history of television or media has anyone ever considered featuring the personal autopsy of a recognized human being using a synthetic cadaver to graphically dismember someone who once lived -- and is survived by three young children.


Justice and Fairness Derailed?

What distressed us was that this program was cynically planned for deliberate broadcast in Europe so that Michael Jackson's family and estate would have no legal reach and would be unable to stop the broadcast. It also included across the board screening in multiple countries and that tells us it was being considered for syndication.


But what concerned us most is that Michael Jackson has three minor children and such a program could not escape them. This image in the collective memory which would have found its way into their world had the potential to scar them emotionally. That rendered this program abusive to minor children.


The airing of the program might have obstructed legal justice since it had the potential to reach the minds of the public and prejudice the jury pool in the forthcoming January trial of Dr. Murray, the physician who administered his medication and was treating Michael Jackson when his death occurred.


It is really disheartening to think that media would schedule a program with this kind of content at precisely the time the public would once again become conscious of Michael Jackson, and that they would piggyback on that focus solely for the sake of ratings and bottom line profits. That isn’t journalism; it’s cannibalism.


Does this kind of programming rise to the level of bullying?

We think so. And we believe Michael Jackson's children would agree. Their father was bullied in life -- and now, it seems there are those who want the bullying to continue even beyond death. His children are the ones who suffer. They don’t live in a vacuum and they are affected by inhumane treatment of their father. We are pretty sure they would like to remember him as their beloved father.


His fans, friends and collaborators who know the truth about him -- knew a dramatically different man to the one many believe he was. They knew him as a cherished friend, role model and hero.


It’s time to tell the truth and reveal the deliberate manipulation of that truth. It’s time to show you the real Michael Jackson:


Understand that everyone would have become vulnerable.

We cannot imagine that any human being would find this kind of programming in good taste. We wondered: what would stop Discovery or any other media outlet from dismembering and dissecting other beloved figures or celebrities publicly if the program went forward? What if they exhumed Lady Diana? Tim Russert? What if Oprah died tomorrow, or Bono, Helen Mirren, Brittany Spears, or Prince William? We wouldn't want to see any of them displayed on a slab for profit and before the hungry eyes of invasive voyeurs. We believe we are better than that. And we want the media to believe it too.


The cynical precedent that would have been established with Discovery crossing a line that would have made everyone fair game to exploitation as lab specimens for sensationalism, market share and promoting sponsor's products.


A Brand has become branded

Discovery Channel was deleted from many cable packages and its sponsors will forever wear a scarlet letter in our eyes, so we would ask that they rethink what kind of programming they support and what constitutes acceptable media narrative.


Dehumanizing people has consequences

One thing that makes this kind of program possible is when humans dehumanize other humans. When people lack ethics or ignore conscience, human laboratories and other abominations become possible: ethnic cleansing, lynchings, witch burning, human ovens, terrorism and war. So if you think there is no slippery slope, you are wrong. Dead wrong. Our humanity dies when we accept the claim that "anything goes." Michael Jackson was systematically and falsely vilified over time. His humanity was stolen and our own humanity along with it.


Aren't we better than this? Aren't we there yet? Discovery drew this line and we hope they meant it when they drew the other—the line for human dignity. When a line like this is crossed it cannot be ignored, and those who forget the humanity of themselves and others must be called out. This is a global village that we are learning to navigate together. As we learn and go forward, let’s not leave our humanity behind.


We are still at a crossroads in the evolution of a civilization:


Which road will we, humanity take? The high road? Or another road?


If your decision is for human worth, decency, civility and dignity, then:

We are asking that you continue to use your voice when called and to respectfully request a more humane treatment of all humans. And refuse to consume that which reduces people to less than human.


As a consumer, you have power and you can effect change. If you're offended by something, you can always ask that the offending channel be removed from your cable bundle or have your provider block it. You can write letters and you can stop using the products and companies who sponsor offensive programming.


Then tell the offender what you have done in a letter or email.


"When power leads the media toward arrogance, we will remind them of their limitations. When people narrow the truth about Michael, we will remind them of his richness and love. When the media corrupts the people's minds, we shall cleanse them". ~John F. Kennedy and Patrick Treacy (2 great Irishmen)


The truth of why this violation could not be ignored still stands:

All previous televised autopsies have been conducted on anonymous cadavers; their faces covered.

  • All bodies dissected were formally donated to Medical Institutes and the donors consented to their remains being used for educational purposes.
  • Michael Jackson did not consent to his remains-- virtual or otherwise being used to satisfy anyone’s morbid curiosity or consent to millions viewing his virtual internal organs.
  • The dead remain a part of the living community, to be honored -- not used for entertainment.
  • For many, this program would have provoked a horrific unease, anxiety, dread or revulsion. For some it would have resulted in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)
  • Even if a cadaver is synthetic, the process of repeatedly associating the name of a recognized person -- is a violation of their name and memory.
  • The virtual autopsy of Michael Jackson was a planned publicity stunt designed to exploit inhumane curiosity and had nothing to do with education or fact finding.
  • In the same way burial sites are also considered deeply important, autopsies—even virtual ones, should be conducted in private, not on worldwide television.
  • Our responsibility is to respect those who once lived and whom they have loved -- and who love them still.
  • We are not beings isolated within nature; what is done to one of us is done to all.
  • We may not be aware of exactly why this was so wrong, but we know that it is -- and we will never feel the same way about Discovery again.
  • There is no respect or inherent value in this type of programming. It disrespects all peoples. It violates the sanctity of family, of life and memories, of everything we hold to be precious about the lives we are given. It violates humanity, the humane, and every sane thinking person.
  • All human cultures recognize the sanctity of human remains and burial and the peaceful non-disturbance of the deceased. This program and the use of a simulated corpse violate those sensibilities and moral codes.
  • This program would have been duplicated and parodied on YouTube, and Discovery would have been culpable and held accountable for any damage in the aftermath.
  • Mr. Jackson’s minor children don’t care about Discovery Channel's sync-rights or profits. They care about their father.

Lines exist for a reason. Burial sites are sacred. So are human beings. We might want to hold that as self evident. A line was almost crossed. We are glad it was not.