Sir Terry Pratchett’s documentary Choosing to Die was incredibly powerful. The subject of assisted suicide polarises opinion... pretty much as you would expect from any such emotive subject but what is for certain is that this programme forced the viewer to think, evaluate and wonder just what the future holds...
My thoughts are no more relevant than anyone else’s, but I would like to air them nonetheless in the hope of provoking a few comments.
The main focal point of the documentary was a gentleman named Peter Smedley, a successful and obviously rich man who would have wanted for nothing... except the one thing his money could not buy. Mr Smedley was suffering from motor neurone disease; he was lucid, capable of limited movement, but the fact that his condition would deteriorate (dramatically) was unavoidable.
The Dignitas clinic in Zurich offers a “release” providing that the person wishes to take his or her own life is capable of rational thought and possesses bodily control to drink two glasses of fluid: the first enables the stomach to accept the poison... thesecond is the poison.
Pratchett suffers from Alzheimer’s disease; he will not recover and his mental health will gradually worsen beyond the point when Dignitas would be an option. This means there is a decision to be made... a decision with extreme consequences, but one that has to be taken at a point in time when natural life would otherwise continue... albeit in a downward spiral.
A few things bother me about the subject: my main issue is with those people who spout their ethical arguments from the safety of good health. How can someone who does not have a terminal illness (and a distinction needs to be drawn with incurable illness here) judge what is right or otherwise for someone fighting a battle they will never win?
I accept that any such illness affects close family as much (but in a different way) as the sufferer and that emotion can affect the decision-making process should assisted suicide be under consideration. But the harsh reality is that we are all going to die... and is it better to choose to end your life “on your own terms”, thereby avoiding the guarantee of distress and pain that lies ahead? Is it a chance to die with the dignity which the illness will gradually take from you?
Peter Smedley had made up his mind; his wife would have wanted him around for longer (and who wouldn’t have selfish feelings in such terrible circumstances), but what her husband wanted was more important. They both displayed remarkable courage as the final moment drew closer; for me the intention of the programme was for the viewer to imagine the size of the decision Mr Smedley had made, its impact on his family and the emotion of the whole scenario.
I tried to imagine... I couldn’t... but I cried... I really cried. I watched Peter Smedley die... his incredible bravery was hard to comprehend, but remarkable to witness. The programme moved me immensely: do I think assisted suicide should be legalised? In principle and given specific criteria, my answer would be “yes”,but how would I feel if I was in Peter Smedley’s position.
I hope and pray I will never have to find out...
All my own work... almost.