Choosing to die

The picture above shows Peter Smedley as he took the lethal drug that ended his life in the Dignitas facility in Zurich. God bless you, Peter.

I have just watched a recording of Terry Pratchett’s BBC documentary ‘Choosing to die’. By any standards this was a remarkable piece of television and if you have not watched it then I urge you to do so. It is not an easy watch. The subject matter is difficult and I defy you not to be emotionally effected by it.

71 year old Peter was terminally ill with a deteriorating disease and no hope of recovery. He took the decision to end his life at a time of his choosing whilst he was still able to cope to a degree and before he became a burden on his family. His wife supported his decision, even though she wished to care for him as long as possible. She sat beside him and stroked his hand as he drifted off to sleep, never to wake up.

His death and Pratchett’s own situation coping with Alzheimers has brought home to me that there is a very distinct difference between euthanasia and assisted death, and that this is an important distinction.

Peter was in full possession of his mental faculties and took the decision to end his life in the manner and at the time of his choosing. The European Convention of Human Rights, for all its many faults, conveys the right of self determination. In Belgium, assisted death is legal. But not in the UK.

It is a matter of shame, in my opinion, that people like Peter are forced to travel to Switzerland in order to end their days peacefully in a building on an industrial estate.

Pratchett’s situation is different. He seems to want to end his days with the same dignity afforded to Peter Smedley, but he recognizes that this can only be done whilst he is in possession of his abilities to take that decision. He must confirm that that he knows what he is doing, is mentally competant to take that decision and able to administer the fatal dose to himself. As an Alzheimers suffer, he knows that the disease will rob him of the ability to make that choice if he leaves it too long. And therein lies the quandry…

Assisted death is a self determination. Euthanasia is someone taking that decision for you.

The former is something that should clearly be considered for legalisation in this country, whereas the latter is something that requires considerably more thought. I don’t know the answer, but I know that the debate needs to happen.

I salute your courage, Peter, and if his program raises public awareness of the issue then your death will not have been in vain.

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2 responses to “Choosing to die

  1. Pratchett's situation is different. He seems to want to end his days with the same dignity afforded to Peter Smedley, but he recognizes that this can only be done whilst he is in possession of his abilities to take that decision. He must confirm that that he knows what he is doing, is mentally competant to take that decision and able to administer the fatal dose to himself. As an Alzheimers suffer, he knows that the disease will rob him of the ability to make that choice if he leaves it too long. And therein lies the quandry…Assisted death is a self determination. Euthanasia is someone taking that decision for you. It should allowed with the following conditions1. The person has made that choice and is still capable2. Anybody with a progressive illness/disease or made incapable suddenly via disease or an accident should be able to have their wishes adhered to via a document similar to a will. It should clearly convey his wishes be witnessed and confirmed via notary or solicitor and it then could be stored in a sperate register along with Births/Deaths/Marriages.If such an instrument was available to ensure that if I became severely disabled with little or no brain function and no quality of life that someone could ensure I was put out of my misery .. then I would use it and sign up to ensure I didn't have to endure that Insurance laws should dictate that any valid insurance payout (to pay for care) should be calculated on a reasonable life expectation and 25% should be given your heirs.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Maverick. We do, of course, allow DNR's in our hospitals although that is denying treatment rather than taking positive steps to end your life.I think there could also be a degree of hypocrisy in all this in that hospices effectively administer drug dosages in the cause of easing pain that will shorten life. This goes on all the time.All I know is that I want the choice to end my own life. That's not to say I will decide to do it, but should the circumstances arise I want to have that choice available. It was interesting to note in the Pratchett visit to Dignitas that about 70% of the people who are members of that organisation and are registering their right to a choice never avail themselves of it.I will definitely return to this subject in future posts.