Fifty Years of Terry Pratchett

Sir Terry Pratchett declares that ‘Assisted Death’ is an idea whose time has come

Sir Terry Pratchett will present an impassioned plea for people to have the right to choose how, where and when they die when he delivers the Richard Dimbleby Lecture on BBC One on Monday 10.35pm.

The best selling author, who was diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007, will argue that ‘Assisted Suicide’ or, as he prefers, ‘Assisted Death’ is “an idea whose time is really coming” and will call for a tribunal to be set up where people can apply for legal permission to end their lives at a time of their choosing.

In the speech, he says: “the tribunal would be acting for the good of society as well as that of the applicant … and ensure they are of sound and informed mind, firm in their purpose, suffering from a life threatening and incurable disease and not under the influence of a third party…. I would suggest there should be a lawyer; one with expertise in dynastic family affairs who has become good at recognising what somebody really means and indeed, if there is outside pressure. And a medical practitioner experienced in dealing with the complexities of serious long term illnesses.”

He offers himself up as a test case for the new tribunal declaring: “if I knew that I could die at any time I wanted, then suddenly every day would be as precious as a million pounds. If I knew that I could die, I would live. My life, my death, my choice.”

The tribunal would also offer protection to the medical profession, who in the past, he argues, often played a role in helping people have a comfortable death: “The Victorians knew how to die. They saw a lot of death. And Victorian and Edwardian London were awash with what we would call recreational drugs, which were seen as a boon and a blessing to all. Departing on schedule with the help of a friendly doctor was quite usual and there is every reason to believe that the medical profession considered that part of its duty was to help the stricken patient on their way.”

He believes that many GPs would support the right to die now if they were protected: “It would be interesting to speculate how many doctors would “come out” were it not for the baleful glare of the BMA. Anyone who has any long-term friendships, acquaintances or professional dealings within the medical profession, let alone knows anything about the social history of medicine, knows that down the ages it has seen it as part of its duty to allow those beyond hope and skill to depart in peace. I can recall the metaphors that have been used; helping them over the step. Showing them the way. Helping them find the door. Pointing them to heaven. But never, ever killing them, because in their minds they were not killing and in their minds they were right.”

He adds: “I certainly do not expect or assume that every GP or hospital practitioner would be prepared to assist death by arrangement, even in the face of overwhelming medical evidence. That is their choice. Choice is very important in this matter. But there will be some probably older, probably wiser, who will understand. It seems sensible to me that we should look to the medical profession that over the centuries has helped us to live longer and healthier lives, to help us die peacefully among our loved ones in our own home without a long stay in god’s waiting room.”

Summing up he says: “It’s that much heralded thing, the quality of life that is important. How you live your life, what you get out of it, what you put into it and what you leave behind after it. We should aim for a good and rich life well lived, and at the end of it, in the comfort of our own home, in the company of those who love us, have a death worth dying for.”