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Mind vs. Fear: Terry Pratchett and assisted death

Last night, I was draw to watch a documentary, hosted by one of the world’s most famous authors, Terry Pratchett. Terry, who has Alzheimer’s disease, investigates the process of assisted death, what it means to people who want to die, and in the end follows Peter Smedley, who has motor neurone disease, to Switzerland to take his own life. Critics have been quick to attack the documentary, calling it one sided, and barely scraps the surface of how people with these afflictions can still live on.

In some respect, I agree with them. It was a Terry Pratchett show, with Terry Pratchett personally showing what he found out about assisted death, and what it also meant to him. Not the most balanced of documentaries, but on the other hand, I don’t think that seeing one BBC 9 o’clock show is going to instantly going to change view of the British public. No random mob will suddenly appear the next outside parliament, demanding that assisted death should be legalised.

Terry’s film was all about choice, to have the chance to end ones’ life when they see fit. I personally was disgusted by some parts of the documentary, and Terry’s assistant, Rob Wilkins, who accompanied him, also personified this. I personally do not agree with ending one’s life, not until the absolute very end of one’s life at least, but I still respected his views. I always try to understand people, Terry is probably one of the cleverest people alive, and has probably thought about this much more than I have.  Therefore, I whole-heartedly disagree with Dr Peter Saunders, the Care not Killing campaign director, attack by calling the documentary a ‘disgraceful use of licence-payers’ money’ (see link 1).

Still, when I watched the documentary, the same thing kept popping up again. Fear. Terry Pratchett started the documentary by saying that ‘in these modern times, you shouldn’t have to face this fear’, and continues as a sub-theme throughout the programme. Not only the fear of being condemned to a paralytic state, where it would be impossible to reclaim one’s former life, but most of all, the fear of being unable to stop it.

Again, I try to understand, but a part of me believes that when faced with fear, one must try to oppose it. Fear is constant part of everyday life, we all fear something, whether it be lose, pain, or other. Terry Gilliam once spoke how as child, I rarely feared anything, but after having children, he started to fear what would happen to them. Nonetheless, we still face these fears every day, and most of us continue with our lives.

This view might be brushed aside when faced with much more deeper issues, such as motor neurone disease. Still, if people still try to live on live on in that condition, that’s real courage. Terry actually visited a former cab driver Mick, who also had motor neurone disease, and was stuck in wheel chair. Although he has considered assisted death, he decided to think positively, and now lives in a hospice, where he can still recite which roads to take, if you want to go from one end of London to the other.

Unfortunately, Terry’s condition is not of the body, but of the mind, which doesn’t give much alternative of a different sort of life. In that respect, courage to live on doesn’t really apply. Terry has said that he’ll go on until he can no longer dictate his words to his assistant, but by that stage, he also might not be considered capable to decide if he wants to go or not.  It might be possible that Terry could change his mind at that stage. Nothing is ever certain till it happens.

If Terry does decide to end his life, it will  be very sad day, not only for his friends and family, but for a whole generation, who grown up reading his books. Funnily enough though, if you take a quick look on Terry’s Wikipedia page, you find his coat of arms when he was knighted. I’m not certain if he chose the motto or not, but Noli Timere Messorum (Don’t fear the reaper) that’s something you cannot help but give chuckle at. So when Terry were to go the next day, there is no doubt that his work would probably live on after, for a very long time.

With that, I end with a song that’s probably the most appropriate thing in the universe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlBiLNN1NhQ

Link 1 - http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jun/14/terry-pratchett-choosing-to-die-assisted-dying-critics

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