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.